Saturday, December 27, 2014

Five 2014 Games I Enjoyed in 2014 - Opinion

With 2014 on its way out the door and a variety of media outlets publishing what games they did & did not like in 2014, I figure I could loosely collate the games I found to be notable. Know that the order is relatively loose and are subject to change, and above all else, that numerical list-making is a largely fatuous pleasantry that shouldn't be the end-all-be-all of opinions. Besides that, here are my following top five 2014 games:

Shadow of Mordor adds yet another tally to the long list of licensed properties that have been surprisingly excellent. While the game treads ground thoroughly molded by the likes of Batman and Assassin's Creed, the Nemesis is the driving force here; as long as you're willing to use your imagination and play around with the orc captains, a lot of hilarious & crazy moments can pop up. It's one of the few instances where the organic experiences are native solely to the medium, and this is hopefully a sign for things to come. I wish that the combat was a little more invigorating towards the end, but that aspect doesn't mar just how entertaining the whole journey is. RIP Grublik.

It's hard living in the shadow of your more popular older siblings—Dark Souls II can well attest to this. At times it looks to rise above the legacy crafted by Demon's and Dark, but ultimately plays it too safe for its own good. Despite this, the Souls experiences are few and far between, and I walked away from Dark Souls II feeling like it was a worthy successor to Dark Souls—it's certainly the most consistent in quality out of the three games thus far. The only thing keeping me from placing it higher on the list is that I haven't touched the DLC yet, and I look forward to diving into those waters come Scholar of the First Sin in 2015.

Being a child of the 8-bit era, there were a lot of things that Shovel Knight could've done to upset me. Thankfully, Yacht Club's knew what made the NES classics click, and their kickstarter baby is a massively fun package from start to finish. From the music to the visuals, the powerups to the bosses, and the level design to the shockingly great story, Shovel Knight is a fantastic entry that earned itself several playthroughs from me. Shovel Knight is the best oldschool throwback fans of the NES have gotten in a long time.

The New Order delivers a solid one-two punch of both action and masterful writing. Not since The Last of Us have the two been married so thoughtfully together—and from a Wolfenstein game, no less! The bulky BJ Blaszkowicz may be out of his era but the dystopian narrative is stronger than it's ever been, and the gunplay is immensely satisfying too. It may be a game that doesn't do one particular thing exceptionally well, but the entire package is just so polished and riveting that I had to place it high on my personal list. It's one of the few games this year that, as soon as the credits started rolling, I thought "there's absolutely nothing they could have done better".

1 - FAR CRY 4
Far Cry 4 earns its place at the top of the heap a bit undeservedly—much of my adoration for the game stems from my time with Far Cry 3, which was my true (non-2014) game this year. However, that still doesn't take away from the fact that Far Cry 4 does what it knows best; the freedom offered to the player in the combat and the world are still greatly unmatched in FPSs today. There's multiple instances of fast-and-loose combat combined with spontaneous hilarity (like when you're sneaking into a base and a random boar has you [and only you] on its hitlist for some unknowable reason), which solidified it as my favorite game this year. On top of that, the gunplay, story, fan-made content and general moment-to-moment fun of this title is something that many games strive for and few achieve, and I have to bow painfully low just to express just how much gratitude I've had for a series that has given me some amazing, spontaneous memories. And it has an ending that, just like with Wolfenstein, is pitch-perfect.


Fire 'n Ice is a great, great puzzler. There's really not much to add behind what I already said in my "Thoughts" entry—the mechanics are simple but wise, the puzzles are numerous and challenging, and the presentation is charming and cheerful. I honestly got very excited every time I turned on the NES to dive back into this title, and even with its +100 levels, I still hunger for more. Plus the game continues to teach you new mechanics even after you've finished it!

I railed against this title last week but I have to say it again—Fahrenheit is not good. If you have to pause the game and ask yourself "why would a human being write this?", then it's likely that there's little the game can do to turn itself around. Fahrenheit goes so far beyond the pale that whatever strengths it had going for it are etched away, and all that remains is the baffling, puerile nonsense that's left bubbling beneath. Heavy Rain's silly plotholes ain't got nothin' on this behemoth.

So much controversy! I'm a sucker for anything that can get people gossiping and bickering loudly, so I'm a little sad to miss the Destiny train this year (though I know it'll be around for quite some time). I've listened to a lot of discussions regarding its grindiness and lack of depth, but experiencing the gameplay first hand and knowing just how Strange Coins and Helium work within its currency is still something I wish I had knowledge of. Perhaps I'll get around to it eventually, or just cut my losses and jump in on the series whenever the inevitable sequel launches.

Bayonetta 2 deserves to be on the top 5 list, but unfortunately isn't—yet. I've split time between the first and second titles messing around with the combat and trying to get a good feel for Dodge Offset, which is taking a while. Seeing as I have yet to tackle anything above normal, or complete all the optional side arenas, it feels improper to try and place Bayonetta 2 on the list above with so much left to understand. I thoroughly enjoyed the Umbran Witch's return to form, but this is something I have to invest a bit more in before I can properly come up with a summary on what my thoughts are. Safe to say, it's definitely the best action game I've played since Ninja Gaiden 2.

Other images obtained from:,,

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Fahrenheit - Thoughts

[contains spoilers]

I like Heavy Rain. I like Beyond: Two Souls. Both of these games have glaring flaws, but they allow the player to live out scenarios of both the mundane and extraordinary. The intense decisions you have to make as a father in Heavy Rain can lead you to question your own morality, and the day-to-day tribulations of a girl forced to endure the malevolent whims of her ghostly companion in Beyond are intensely compelling (well, before it delved into the whole military thing). Say what you will about the "gamey" aspect of these titles; it's a rare occurrence in video games when you're placed into a girls' shoes and are forced to determine what to wear, make, and listen to for a romantic dinner with your teenage crush, and just for scenarios like that, those games are a welcomed change of pace.

With that said, I will warn you that the following will be a relentless diatribe against Quantic Dream's sophomore effort, Fahrenheit. If I was to liken David Cage to a writer (though perhaps film maker would be more apt), I could easily compare Heavy Rain and Beyond to something like thriller novels that dip into the supernatural, while Fahrenheit is rushed, middle school-grade drivel. I mean that whole heartedly—the story is a disheveled, untangled mess of half-baked ideas.

Where to begin? The start of the game is the best part of the experience, opening with a very enticing scenario—you awake after killing a man in an unexplained altered state, and now must clean up the evidence before the police arrive. There's a bit of a twist here as you're allowed to play as the detectives after the scene, picking up the trail of the main character and hunting him between perspective shifts. The protagonist/"antagonist" push-and-pull system would later be utilized to a much more clever degree in Beyond, but I must credit Fahrenheit with originating this inspiring idea. However, this is about the best the game has to offer, and begins its downhill tumble into madness just an hour in.

I was fully onboard for the spirit possession murder mystery at the start—pondering as to why the vicarious killer severed the arteries to the heart was quite a conundrum. Once the murders were explained as part of an ancient Mayan ritual, I still remained interested despite the odd Mesoamerican twist. But then the spacetime-bending super powers were thrown in, and the tip of the iceberg melted away to reveal more and more unconscionable lunacy. Whether it be the baseless prophecy that leads to global cooling, random zombification of the main character, the Mayan oracle serving the Illuminati, the blind mystic revealing herself to be an unchained artificial intelligence (not a robot; a personified AI), the celestial pool of boundless energy that gives the power of prophecy to embryos, or the shy child that could whisper God's secrets—merely the inclusion of one of these would render a story as inane, let alone all of them in the final two hours. The difference in information between the very first cutscene and the very last cutscene is so vast and unimaginable that it's hard to accept that they belonging to the same game.

And that's not even touching the minor details sprinkled throughout the story that just sour the experience further. Besides being torn directly from the 60s, Tyler's character remains a giant question mark on the plot, barely contributing anything to the story other than a few smarmy smirks at a pretty consistent rate. The romance between Lucas and Carla comes directly out of nowhere, as one cutscene shows him (weakly) convincing her to trust him and the next shows the two waking up after a night together. This is made more absurd as she admits her love to her zombified boyfriend despite the paucity of onscreen time or chemistry between the two, making Ethan & Madison's relationship in Heavy Rain seem like an exquisite saga in comparison. Visions of irradiated bugs and marble angels attack Lucas without proper explanation, and super powers are only used whenever the plot deems them fit (the Mayan oracle can teleport and possess people with a word, but a locked door is too much for him?). Pentagrams adorn Lucas' apartment for no reason, cars try to drive into Lucas for no reason, men that dress as hobos know the secret workings of the universe for no reason, and the AI, oh lord, the inclusion of the 80s-born AI that "continues to haunt the net" even after it explodes into luminescent confetti in a mock-Area 51...

While I feel I could write forever about just how awful the narrative became in the game, I do feel its important to mention its dull mechanics. Granted, Fahrenheit was impressive for the time due to its cutscene integration and split interface during many of its key moments, being one of the first big in-game rendered "movies you can play". The controls are unapolegetically terrible however, ruining any kind of "cinematic" feel you could experience behind the wheel. The camera is the key offender in this drunken struggle you'll have with your characters; there were multiple times where I found myself holding down to go up, or right to go bottom-left. Rare few games are honestly as bad with player controls as this one. Not only that, but when you are prompted to perform actions in the game, they'll be one out of a handful of gimmicks that go on entirely too long, making you wish you were watching a movie rather than required to input a series of loosely-tied Simon Says joystick directions. And when it's not that, it's stealth segments that have some of the worst design I've experienced, complete with a minimap that fails to properly convey just how far guards can see. Sure, there's a few fun moments in here (like putting Theory of a Deadman on after your ex-girlfriend takes her stuff back from your apartment), but it's drowned in monotonous and deadening gameplay.

I praised the general design of the game at the start, but that poisons itself eventually too. Playing both sides of the investigation was interesting, but since the game had multiple fail states for Lucas getting caught by the authorities, it becomes frustrating figuring out what you're supposed to do. In one specific instance, Tyler is interrogating Lucas at his job and the player is given no context about what they should do—to proceed, Lucas must lie to Tyler to avoid going to jail, but when the player controls Tyler they must find evidence that will incriminate him. This ambivalent struggle continued for far too long in the game, pushing you on with the detectives when you know getting caught will end the game, yet failing to get caught will also end the game, until you reach the unspecified point when the two team up.

The dialogue design is interesting at first, but letting you choose only 50% of the answers becomes irksome when you're trying to understand the story. Every group that says they can explain what's going on, from Agatha to the Mayan oracle to the Invisibles, only answers a few questions, leaving many things in the dark (I will never know why an elderly chinese man at an antique book store was using a fake accent!). Ironically though, even when they do try to explain the plot, concepts like The Chroma and The Wave are mentioned briefly and then taken as common vocabulary thereafter. I could also write about how the mood meter, lives, and amount of restarts spoil the games pacing and drama, or how direct movie ripoffs from Silence of the Lambs, The Matrix, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ruin the game's ingenuity, but I think my penance for this entry has been paid.

Though there are experiences I've been disappointed with this year (like Lone Survivor and The Wonderful 101), I can still recognize the merits beneath their rough exterior, the good ideas shinning through like illustrious pearls. Fahrenheit has no such silver lining—it is a rotten product through and through. It's a great piece of fiction if you enjoy absurd/unintentional comedy (at times it's like The Room given video game form), but otherwise it's largely unplayable today. Perhaps more baffling than how this product was made and shipped out the door, is the critical success it achieved from reviews and gamers alike at release. If not for Heavy Rain and Beyond's general solidity and competence, I would have been tempted to write David Cage off as a buffoon. As for now though, I can only hope Quantic Dream's next project never comes near what I just suffered through.

Images obtained from:,,

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Iridion II - Thoughts

When Shin'en was considering what the sequel to Iridion 3D would be, it must have been clear from early on that their peculiar flying perspective had to be scrapped. Yet they probably didn't want to abandon their knack for making gorgeously fluid scrolling backgrounds, so they settled on an isometric perspective for Iridion II instead. The game suffers no sophomore slump compared to its idealistic sibling, featuring more levels, more weapons, infinite continues, tighter controls, better design, and a challenge mode in addition to its campaign and arcade routes. Though I do prefer Iridion 3D for purely sentimental reasons, I admit there's few better shmups you'll find on the GBA than this one.

In a way, however, that speaks largely to the GBA's lackluster library of shooters, as Gradius Galaxies is the only other one I can think of that's worth looking into. Iridion II is a good game that's marred by a few errors here and there (a constant conclusion I come to with the Iridion/Nano series as a whole). As I stated above, having a lot of levels (15!) and shot-types (6 with each being upgradable twice) do a lot to make it feel like a well-realized shmup, taking a good hour and a half to chow through. Level diversity is exceptionally strong, with some stages focusing on enemy gimmicks like proximity mines or bouncing shards of ice, while others favor static hazards like windmill-operated doors or screen-filling cruisers menacingly floating by. There's a great pool of bosses here too, many of them featuring simple—but creative—attack patterns (except for that atrocious orb that surrounds itself with barricades).

I wish I could say the same for the weapons, but the game flubs up a bit here. Iridion II is great at letting you choose between multiple abilities to upgrade, giving you a personal preference that was absent in the last game (where it was more "powerup du jour"), but one minor aspect keeps you essentially locked into using one ability per level—whenever you pick up the item that lets you upgrade a shot-type, what the game fails to tell you is that using said item on a maxed-out weapon will refill half your health. Since continuing after death is check-point based this time around (rather than being continuous), stocking up on a couple of these items is very important as they basically serve as extra lives. Therefore the best thing to do is to find the shot-type you think does the most damage and just stick to that; they all do relatively the same amount, so you at least have some flexibility in your choosing.

The only thing I can think of that Iridion 3D might tout over its successor is graphical fidelity. While both have gorgeous backgrounds, the use of sprites directly separates them: Iridion 3D merely had to enlarge sprites as they got closer to you, while Iridion II's isometric perspective means that they have to be enlarged and change depth accordingly. A flat sprite is—typically—very unmalleable, so at times it may seem like an object is just scrolling along an invisible conveyer belt toward you (as evidenced by my first screenshot). In addition to this, bullets can travel along a hard-to-determine path due to the isometric perspective and the general blockiness of the player's ship—this issue is especially prevalent whenever a boss decides to fill the screen with amethyst pellets. For the most part the perspective is fine, but the ambiguity may leave you cursing sporadically.

The music remains just as whimsical, thankfully. I'm not exaggerating when I say one of the best things about the game is the title screen, where you can mix different tracks together to form your own favorite main theme (or play around with changing it little by little every measure). There's a couple of old tracks that make a comeback here but it doesn't feel forced or shoe-horned, given that there's such a dizzying amount of tunes. I personally found myself leaning more towards the cool/hip/jazzy tracks like "Spiral Bliss", though the majority of them are positively fantastic (like one of the opening tracks, "Two Years Gone").

There's not really much else I have to say regarding Iridion II. By buffing out the bumps and ugly marks of its former title, the game remains very consistent and enjoyable throughout, a necessary title for the GBA if you're craving quirky STG action. In a way it feels less "remarkable" than Iridion 3D but if that comes at the cost of the game feeling more balanced and fun, it's certainly far from a bad trade.