GUFUYourself Sat, 15 Feb 2014 06:03:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Copyright © GUFUYourself 2011 (GUFUYourself) (GUFUYourself) GUFUYourself 144 144 Because who else is going to do it? GUFUYourself GUFUYourself no no Backlog Review – Rayman Legends Thu, 16 Jan 2014 20:10:15 +0000 Delightful, energetic, and a little long in the tooth. Those were my reactions to 2011’s Rayman Origins, a well-crafted platformer from Michel Ancel that was an absolute pleasure to play. Beautifully rendered, tight controls, and some sharp level design. The kind of things you want in a 2D platformer, and it was a breath of fresh air to boot. Because the reality is you get these types of games from Nintendo or the indie scene, and rarely with the same caliber of production. Rayman Legends is a whole lot more of that same game.

Like its predecessor, Rayman Legends is an absolute looker. Gorgeous hand drawn art that animates beautifully gives the many environments of the game character and a personality of their own. Be it a luchador inspired environment, or my personal favorite, a mishmash of James Bond-esque spy levels with a group of enemies rocking Splinter Cell gear. Even platforming familiars such as the lava level has an absolutely beautiful pop to it. You could argue that the art direction was already impressive in Origins, and that’s true, it was. But Origins wasn’t nearly as varied on a visual level, and that’s something Rayman Legends corrects early and often, constantly moving you through levels that feel distinct visually, even if the theme of the art direction stays the same.


Like the original, Rayman Legends is a tight platforming experience. Some of you may need to adjust to how Rayman handles as he’s not really floaty but he isn’t carrying nearly as much weight as you’d expect. Once you adjust, Legends is as sharp mechanically, if not sharper, than Origins and you’ll be moving from one obstacle to the next with precision and relative ease.

Some effort has also gone into one my biggest disappointments with the original in that some levels overstay their welcome. I rarely found a level that I felt just dragged. Though there is a backtracking segment; it was handled effectively as you weren’t necessarily doing the same exact thing all over again. The game varies itself nicely, having you speed running, doing gliding levels, swimming levels, the aforementioned spy meets stealth meets platforming levels, and the not so satisfying Murphy levels.

The biggest gameplay addition to Rayman Legends is Murphy, a character designed with the touch controls in mind. I can’t comment on how he stacks up on a touch controlled device, but on a gamepad he’s a blemish on what is an otherwise well put together game. Rayman Legends, like the original, is at its best when you are moving through the level at a brisk pace and hitting all your marks correctly. Murphy slows that pace down to a screeching halt, as more often than not you’ll be standing still to take care of whatever Murphy prompt you need to handle.

On a gamepad, it’s done with the press of a button, and some of these levels can be enjoyable. Specifically ones where you are asked to move along quickly, and you’re simply pressing the button to have Murphy move environment pieces to keep you moving quickly. But most of them just dampen the pace, and all the satisfaction comes from when you finish those levels. Not because they are satisfying, but more so because you’re glad they are done with and you can move onto Rayman Legends proper.


Which again is a tight platformer with sharp controls, and one that actually had some interesting boss fights to boot. The initial two and final boss fight leave a lot to be desired, but there were a handful of segments that used Rayman’s mechanics rather intelligently. Specifically a robotic dragon that had you hoping under moving cover to deflect attacks back at the beast before you could finish him off. Another is an excellent throw down with a gigantic masked wrestler. Platformers usually don’t have fun boss battles (at least in recent years) so it was an absolute delight to fight some that were this entertaining.

Like its predecessor and most platformers this game is a collect-a-thon. This time blue teensies, those blue things with giant noses. To reach the credits sequence simply playing through the game should get you to the finish line. Which is a welcome change from what you had to do in Rayman Origins. Where you most likely had to go back to some older levels and go hunt down missing pink things (I forgot the name) to progress the game. That said to make it to the games hardest levels you’ll still need to obviously collect all the teensies, and specifically 400 for a bonus area. This area is frankly good enough to justify some of that tedium do to how satisfying these levels can be.

If you played Origins; there were these levels where you chased a treasure chest on what were tough-as-nails levels. In place of those now are music based levels. Where you go along on a similar type of obstacle course. Where any mistake results in you needing to start over (but with check points this time), but the kicker here is that it’s all done to the rhythm of a song. And for those who have a keen ear for music this can be a delight of its own. As it is both infectious and gratifying to hit every note of a level, and it also is a level where you can feel out where the jumps are coming.


Black Betty ends up being a good introduction to these types of levels, but my personal favorite was a mariachi inspired of the Eye of the Tiger. That is as far as music selection is concerned (there is even some classic orchestral stuff), but that final area is those levels at their peak as far as game design is concerned. Devilish obstacles, faster paced tunes, and all around less forgiving. At times frustrating, but the finish line is that much more satisfying for it. It’s just a shame that most likely you’re going to play a lot of Rayman Origins levels to get to it.

Most of the standard levels in Rayman Origins should have about 9 teensies to collect. A king and queen who are hidden in secret stages within the levels, and teensies hanging for their dear lives to an enemy, a rope, stuck in a cage, or what have you. Collect enough yellow lums in a level and you will get a scratch card. This scratch card will unlock pets that will get you more lums, extra teensies, or levels from Rayman Origins. On one hand its extra content to a game, but on the other hand it’s recycled content. It’s content that they already made last time. And frankly I purchased Rayman Legends to play Rayman Legends, not the levels I already beat in Rayman Origins.

So really the whole tedium of a collect-a-thon isn’t really lost here, but ultimately I find that extra level more for completionists. If you just prefer to play your game and make it to the credits? You won’t have to worry about it what so ever. But for completionists and people well versed in platformers? Yeah it’s a collect-a-thon in the vein of collect-a-thons.


And that’s really the lasting impression of the game. When it’s hitting its stride the game is an absolute delight. A game pouring with enthusiasm and high energy in so much of its content. But there are occasional dips along the way. Be it a new addition that frankly that isn’t that satisfying (at least on a gamepad) or the usual boredom presented by being forced to collect things.

But maybe the real drawback here is that really it’s more Rayman, instead of another step forward. Rayman Origins was part return to form for Rayman, and in many ways a brilliant reimagining of what Rayman games are and can be. While it didn’t do anything new for the genre, it did plenty for the Rayman series as a whole. Legends just gives you more of that, and more of that was already a really good game. And it still is a really good game. It just never quite does enough to put Rayman in the same class as genre legends. And really that’s a shame considering the subtitle of the game. Make no mistake about it though. If you enjoy platformers, Rayman Legends is a must buy.

The Good

  • Beautiful art design
  • Tight controls
  • Expertly engineered levels
  • Great soundtracks
  • Improved boss fights
  • Mariachi inspired Eye of the Tiger

The Bad

  • Murphy levels
  • The best stages requires you to play recycled content before you can unlock them

Final Score – 8/10

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Review – Gran Turismo 6 Mon, 13 Jan 2014 22:09:36 +0000 Gran Turismo 6

Review based on version 1.02

Gran Turismo 6 arrived on the 15th anniversary of the Gran Turismo series, ending its run on the previous generation of hardware in much the same way as Gran Turismo 4 did on the Playstation 2. With the next generation upon us, this may well be the Playstation 3′s swan song, one last hurrah from what is arguably Sony’s most successful franchise, with the series’ biggest, most content-packed entry yet. But one must ask: is that enough?

The first thing you’re likely to notice are the massive – and I do mean massive – improvements to the user interface. The redesigned menu splits career mode races, seasonal events and online lobbies, the tuning/garage area and other modes into partitions on the same front page, which makes everything much more intuitive and far easier to navigate than the sluggish and labyrinthine menus found in Gran Turismo 5.

Additional credit must be given to Gran Turismo 6’s encyclopedic selection of cars and tracks, which has long been a strength of the franchise. While I would much rather see a smaller, better curated selection of vehicles rather than one as inflated by dozens of versions of the same few cars, the track selection is nothing short of stellar. There are a few tracks I’d wish were included like Sebring, Mugello and the Circuit de Catalunya but I’m just nitpicking at this point. Tracks like Ascari, Spa de Francorchamps, Willow Springs, Mount Panorama, Brands Hatch and many more do an excellent job to make up for any missing circuits. It’s rare to see a racing game with as much track variety Gran Turismo 6 has and it greatly helps the game’s career mode, which keeps introducing new tracks just as you begin to tire of others.

The career mode has seen significant changes this time around, eschewing the leveling system from its predecessor and instead tying upward mobility to your ability to earn a certain number of stars in races, which unlocks a final championship and… a license test. Yes, the license tests are back and are once again mandatory for unlocking the next tier of races. Thankfully, they’re quite easy to complete, making them a momentary annoyance at worst.


Much has been made about the added microtransactions and the game’s grind-based economy, and while there is a bit of a grind for the first few hours, I never felt as though the game was intentionally skewed toward forcing players to pay real money just to get ahead. Seasonal events, combined with the consecutive login bonus which boosts your credit count at the end of races, meant I was eventually swimming in a few million credits.

That said, I can’t shake the feeling that something is off with a number of the game’s vehicles, particularly FWD and RWD cars with mid-mounted engines. In particular, FWD cars seem to understeer more than they should and liftoff oversteer is too prominent and uncontrollable in RWD cars. Gran Turismo’s cars have never felt quite right on the road and it’s in large part due to the tire physics, which, while improved over previous games, are still weak.

More often than I liked, I felt like I was driving on the razor’s edge, a feeling that’s as exciting as it is exhausting. Gran Turismo 6 is unlike nearly every other racing simulator I’ve played in that there’s an extremely fine line between having control and losing it. There’s very little middle ground in the tire’s grip progression under stress, almost to the point where it seems like a binary switch.  This is largely due to the game’s inability to communicate when you’re pushing your car to its absolute limits until it’s too late. Once you’ve lost control, the twitchiness of the steering response on a controller makes it too easy to overcorrect and send your car into a spin.

This problem is helped significantly (though not eliminated) by playing with a proper racing wheel setup. Gran Turismo 6 feels better than the series ever has on a DualShock 3 but controlling some of the high powered beasts like the Pagani Huayra requires more finesse than the DualShock 3 seems capable of.

Gran Turismo 6

Without a doubt, Gran Turismo 6 gets closer to replicating a realistic driving feel than any previous entry in the series. The new suspension modeling creates a palpable feeling of weight and makes slamming a car through a tight chicane quite enjoyable as you see and feel the car’s weight shifting at each turn in. On a visual level, it seems a bit exaggerated, with cars leaning more than they should and dipping slightly too far forward on heavy braking (sometimes causing the back end to lift off of the ground), but this never takes much away from the game itself.

Gran Turismo’s AI has always been a sore spot for the series and while efforts have been made to correct these problems in Gran Turismo 6, it wasn’t enough. There’s less rigid adherence to the same racing line and you’ll see the AI drivers regularly run wide in the corner, but as organic as these behaviors look, the AI drivers are quite robotic, like they’re merely going through a set of predetermined routines rather than actually reacting to what’s going on around them. As ever, AI drivers seem blissfully unaware of your presence on the track, leading to more than a few frustrating accidents. I once had the AI pit me as I was coming up to the final corner on the last lap of a race, but I don’t think it was because of any additional aggression on the AI’s part, and more due to a lack of awareness and it being programmed to get back to a racing line I happened to be occupying.

But those accidents are rarely an issue because Gran Turismo 6 still lacks a competent damage model. In fact, the extent of the damage model has actually regressed since Gran Turismo 5. Sure, the extent of the mechanical and physical damage was quite limited in Gran Turismo 5 but that’s no reason to simply remove it from single player races altogether. Instead of the physics based visual damage simulation (which didn’t work too well but was rather innovative) of its predecessor, the most you’ll be able to do to a car in Gran Turismo 6 is give it a couple of superficial scratches.

Gran Turismo 6

And that’s just cosmetic damage. Mechanical damage, in large part, just doesn’t exist in Gran Turismo 6, so unlike most racing simulators on the market, you’re free to drive as aggressively as you like without penalty. I’m a firm believer that rubbing is racing and I tend to drive aggressively no matter what racing game I’m playing, but racing simulators in particular always instill a certain respect, not only for my car, but for my opponents, forcing me to limit my aggression and drive more conservatively because of what a collision could do to both my car and my chances of winning. Sometimes, I drive too aggressively and I end up paying for it at the end of the race. But that’s just how it goes. Accidents happen, after all.

Unfortunately, Gran Turismo 6 does not make me respect my opponents.

In single player races, I drive as aggressively as I want. I’ll use my opponents as bumpers to allow me to take corners quicker, bump my opponents off the road and once, I intentionally t-boned an AI driver because I could. And in every situation, I drove away clean. Naturally, I don’t carry this same attitude online because I don’t like being a jerk, but without a good damage model as a deterrent, what’s to stop other players? Respect isn’t given, it’s earned, and due to the lack of a proper damage model, Gran Turismo 6’s races have not earned my respect.

All of this is exacerbated by the fact that the game is almost insultingly easy. On top of the AI drivers’ limited intelligence, it seems as though they’re programmed to lose. I’ve noticed that the AI intentionally drives slower until you’ve passed them, at which point they speed up considerably and try to keep pace. Because of this, the career mode is practically bereft of any real challenge. I’ve even wiped out multiple times in a race and still managed to come in first place by a wide margin.

But the game’s biggest problem is its inconsistency. Though the distinction between standard and premium cars has been removed, the gap in visual quality between the two remains. Of the 1200+ cars, about 440 of them are “premium” level, up from little more than half that in Gran Turismo 5 while the rest are a mixture of 150+ “semi-premium” cars, which have seen updated texture and mesh work to bring their visual quality much closer to that of the premium cars, and around 670 standard cars. All of the non-premium cars still lack detailed interiors in the cockpit view and the standard cars look just as awful as they did in Gran Turismo 5.

Gran Turismo 6

Visually, Gran Turismo 6 is a slight downgrade from its predecessor. This is likely due to the new dynamic lighting system which allows more tracks to have full day to night cycles than Gran Turismo 5. The changes are small but noticeable, ranging from lower quality reflections and shadows to slightly lower car geometry, which is cleaned up in photos and replays. The overall resolution is slightly better, but issues like screen tearing and occasional framerate dips persist. Still, the dynamic lighting looks fantastic and overall, Gran Turismo 6 does look quite impressive.

Unfortunately, little has improved in regards to the audio presentation. The engine sounds are still mostly awful and inauthentic, with throaty, growling V8s sounding like whining vacuum cleaners and authoritative V12s reduced to the level of particularly aggressive lawn mowers. The grating tire squeals remain just as irritating as ever and collisions still sound like plastic bins banged up against a wall. Though the selection of music has been maligned by some, I don’t mind Gran Turismo 6’s mix of smooth jazz and classical tunes that populates the menus and the pop, electronic and rock songs that play during races. As a whole, though, I’m quite disappointed that the audio has seen such little attention given how bad it’s been, especially compared to its competition.

A perfect example of the inconsistency that permeates Gran Turismo 6 is in the first wave of downloadable cars added since release. Neither Mario Andretti’s famous 1948 Hudson Hornet nor the next generation BMW M4 Coupé (which was unveiled both in real life and in the game on the same day) feature an interior. Even the first Vision GT vehicle, the product of a much publicized partnership between Polyphony Digital and various manufacturers to develop a number of concept vehicles that will soon appear in Gran Turismo 6, doesn’t have a detailed interior, and instead features the same kind of blacked-out cockpit that the standard and semi-premium cars have. I would’ve thought DLC would be prioritized to deliver a quality level consistent with premium cars, but I guess I was wrong. And that’s not okay.

But for all the grief I give Gran Turismo 6, it does have its thrills on the track. There’s nothing quite like flying down the Circuit de la Sarthe at night in a Lamborghini Aventador, with fireworks bursting in the background and a Ferrari FXX breathing down your neck. Driving around the Nurburgring in a KTM X-BOW as the track transitions from day to night is a spectacularly engrossing experience that few racers I’ve played can match.

Gran Turismo 6

And that’s what Gran Turismo is about. The drive. Though I still have issues with the physics system, Gran Turismo 6 does a pretty good job of replicating the feeling of driving. It’s not quite up there with other simulators on consoles or the PC, but it’s getting there. But its moronic AI, rolling starts, lack of consequences for driving recklessly and good but not great handling physics keep Gran Turismo 6 from measuring up to other racing sims in the way that matters most: recreating the sensation of racing. It’s a competent game, but not one that truly stands out, except for its sheer breadth of content.

But content for content’s sake is not enough to push Gran Turismo 6 over the top. Perhaps I’m in the minority, but I would gladly trade half of Gran Turismo 6’s total car count in order to have 600 premium quality cars. I would rather see a competent damage model than moon exploration missions, which, while a fun novelty, are little more than that. Gran Turismo 6’s wide range of content doesn’t make up for the lack of quality in many key areas, from AI to sound quality to the poor visuals plaguing more than half of the game’s cars. With each new iteration, Gran Turismo’s glaring weaknesses have become even more obvious. And now that we’re on the sixth version of the series, they’re just unacceptable. Polyphony Digital has had more than enough time to fix these issues and they haven’t.

All said, Gran Turismo 6 is more an expansion pack than a full sequel. In practically every way, this is the game Gran Turismo 5 should’ve been. Frankly, however, that’s simply not enough. The new additions and improvements make this without question the best Gran Turismo in the series, but it’s enough to be a necessary upgrade for anyone who already bought Gran Turismo 5. If you’re a Playstation 3 owner looking to dive into the world of racing sims, or simply a diehard series fan, Gran Turismo 6 should definitely be on your short list. Everyone else, however, would probably be better suited skipping this and waiting for the inevitable seventh entry on the Playstation 4 when, with any luck, Polyphony Digital will have realized that quality is more important than quantity.

The Good

  • More than 1200 cars
  • Huge number of tracks
  • Improved physics

The Bad

  • Terrible audio
  • Standard cars look as bad as ever
  • Robotic AI
  • Virtually nonexistent damage model
  • Inconsistent quality

Final Score – 6/10

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Review – Gravity (2013) Mon, 14 Oct 2013 15:48:48 +0000 Life in space is impossible. Alfonso Cuaròn’s latest film “Gravity” begins with this warning, reinforced by the foreboding soundtrack building up behind it. It’s an obvious line, one a cynical person may think is insultingly reminding the audience that space is a hostile place for life. However the truth is much more beautiful and rewarding. That simple fact is the heart of the movie.

The opening sequence fades into the silence of space, Cuaròn moves his camera through its vastness with breathtaking precision, giving us a dizzying and stunning view of Earth before introducing us to three astronauts in the middle of a mission. We only see the faces of two of these astronauts, Ryan Stone, a troubled medical engineer, played by Sandra Bullock, on her first mission, and veteran space walker Matt Kowalski, sagely portrayed by George Clooney. Every other character in the film is merely a voice, from the third astronaut to mission control. “Gravity” is about Stone and Kowalski and their journey in space when things go terribly wrong.


There were whispers of concern before the film released that Cuaròn’s first since “Children of Men” would merely be a special effects driven thrill ride with no human story holding it together. Again the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. While it would be a travesty to ignore the breath stopping power of the thrills Cuaròn has designed, they would be as worthless as lungs in space without the very moving personal story of the two astronauts caught up in them. Yes, the set pieces are magnificent to behold, simultaneously leaving you in awe at their beauty while sucking the breath out of your lungs with their soul crushing violence, but the film never forgets what is really important:  the people whose lives are in danger.

Bullock and Clooney are both completely committed to conveying this in their performances and it would really be a shame if they are overlooked in favor of the film’s technical achievements. Clooney’s calm assurance is perfect for the soon to retire veteran, he provides old hand wisdom to Bullock’s space rookie and keeps her grounded even when she is spinning out of control. Bullock is suitably vulnerable at first, but her journey through the increasingly dangerous fight for survival sees her discover a strength within herself that is just as heart-stirring as the cinematography to behold. Her journey is heartbreaking and overwhelming to witness at times, but it’s also very touching in such an honest, no bull way that it manages to break free from sentimentality and transcend into one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had in a movie theater.


To think that we get all of that at the core of one of the most white knuckle disaster movies ever made is almost too good to be true. Cuaròn is a master at the long take and he uses it to brilliant effect here to force us right into the middle of the destruction. This is the first film that I’ve seen in 3D during this recent fad that actually left me feeling thankful I didn’t opt for my usually preferred 2D version. Like Stone I found myself gasping for breath as Cuaròn placed his camera in the thick of it, capturing the sense of terror one must feel while fighting for every second amidst such an unforgivably aggressive disaster in the cold void of space. Every sweep, every stomach churning spin is bang on the money, supplying both thrills and emotional highs and lows that mean so much more than just being lovely to look at.

Much like Stanley Kubrick accomplished in “2001: A Space Odyssey”, he achieves a style that feels married to the very nature of space. This style, combined with either dead silence or the stunning score, makes every set piece a symphony of disaster, with my very favorites being a devastating visit to the International Space Station and the well-earned conclusion, which nearly moved me to tears while simultaneously threatening to force me to dig my nails into my cheeks to relieve some of the nearly unbearable tension.

And that’s the true magic of this movie. The tension is built up steadily throughout its ninety minute running time, exploding in places but never losing its momentum. Through that tension I also experienced one of the most satisfying and moving human stories in recent years. Nothing is wasted in “Gravity”, no line, no shot, no instance of the incredible music, it’s all executed at just the right time and with the maximum impact on the story Cuaròn is telling. It’s an incredibly terrifying and rewarding experience, one that you will feel like you’ve experienced firsthand. As Clooney’s Kowalski puts it, when it’s all said and done you’ll have one helluva story to tell.


Rating Stars - Five

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Review – 12 Years a Slave (2013) Fri, 20 Sep 2013 23:04:24 +0000 12-YEARS-A-SLAVE

To put it bluntly: Steve McQueen is the most exciting up-and-coming director in the film industry today. After giving us Hunger in 2008 and Shame in 2011, he is back for round three with 12 Years a Slave, a biopic about Solomon Northup, a freeman who was tricked, drugged, kidnapped, and forced into slavery. It’s a true story, and the screenplay is based on Northup’s memoir, Twelve Years a Slave.

12 Years a Slave features a supremely talented cast consisting of Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Paul Giamatti. Besides Fassbender, these actors play relatively minor roles and the entire film depends on the performance of Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays Solomon. Ejiofor is a brilliant actor who is finally getting his chance to play a major role. Over the course of the film, he displays every emotion in the spectrum and perfectly embodies the character and person of Solomon Northup. The hardship on screen directed by McQueen and depicted by Ejiofor is often difficult to watch, but moving your eyes away from the screen is even harder. Another standout in the cast is Lupita Nyong’o, a relative newcomer who plays Patsy, a slave girl whose talent for picking cotton that wins the affection of Fassbender’s character, the sadistic slave owner Master Epps. Rounding out the cast is Alfre Woodard as the wife of a slave owner, and Sarah Paulson as Epps’ envious wife. Chiwetel Ejifor gives the performance of his career here, and I hope he does not get overlooked when award season comes around.

The film closely follows the novel. Solomon goes from plantation to plantation until he eventually gains his freedom. The plantation scenes are haunting, and a few in particular are incredibly brutal. McQueen has captured the look and feel of the mid-1800s impeccably in this film, from the architecture in towns all the way to precise details like the type of plates or cabinetry in the houses. Some scenes are simply there to show the slaves’ environment and living conditions and shed light on how they lived. Solomon interacts with a variety of different people, and even if the film is about slavery, everyone is depicted as a believable human being for the time period. The film makes no statements about race, and is better for it. 12 Years a Slave also has some comedic moments that nicely break up the tension in the film and will have you cheering for Northup.

McQueen continues to show his tremendous technical skills. 12 Years a Slave is a visually and musically phenomenal film, just as his previous ones were, but 12 Years a Slave is more conventional and approachable in comparison to his previous films. However, there are still a lot of similarities. Like the others, much of the story is told through flashbacks, montages, and lingering shots. Long single takes and tracking shots pervade the film, and McQueen puts strong emphasis on the pain that the characters display on screen, keeping the camera on them long enough to maximize the effect.

McQueen believes that 12 Years a Slave is a film that needed to be made, and after seeing his depiction of 1800s Louisiana, I am inclined to agree. 12 Years a Slave is ultimately a harrowing account of a man’s determination to survive and reunite with his family. It’s a film that will resonate with everyone; one that will make you cry, laugh, cheer, and especially cringe. This is filmmaking at its finest.

Final Score (Out of Five):

Rating Stars - Five

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On Grand Theft Auto V Reviews Mon, 16 Sep 2013 21:10:32 +0000 Untitled-2

Grand Theft Auto V, arguably the biggest title of the current console cycle, is releasing to a lot of controversy. Some of it big and some of it small. Not being particularly interested in it I decided to check some reviews, particularly ones from Gamespot and The Escapist.

The Gamespot review is by Carolyn Petit and she has had a history of her reviews incorporating different social agendas. Most of the time it is done decently enough but her review of Grand Theft Auto V left a lot to be desired.

Politically muddled and profoundly misogynistic

There is nothing wrong with that little blurb (it is bad writing albeit par for the course in terms of video game journalism) but I do have a problem with what, unfortunately, did not come after. I expected Petit to elaborate on the issues of Grand Theft Auto V’s characterization but that was not the case. If you use such strong wording as “profoundly misogynistic” the least that you could do is explain it and reflect it in the review, whether it be in the final score or in the text.

I am neutral when it comes to pushing a political or moral agenda in a review but if you do you better have the integrity to go all the way with it. Noting stereotypical portrayals in gaming but doing nothing about it is just as bad as enabling it. The fact that she still gave the game a 9 tells me that she is perfectly okay with the game’s characterization as long as the gameplay is good, which to me is idiotic. Triumph of the Will is an exceptionally well shot film but it is still a propaganda piece. The same principle should apply here.

What she should have done was to go above and beyond with it, completely trash the game, and give it a low score instead of this drive-by display of activism that ultimately left me unsatisfied. The review blurb just seems like a way to collect hits and create a manufactured controversy even if she still gave it a very high score. To me, that signals Carolyn Petit’s lack of integrity even if minority portrayals in gaming is an area she cares deeply about. Better characters are something that everyone can benefit from.

The previous paragraph was speaking in general terms and not specifically about Grand Theft Auto V. I am of the belief that Grand Theft Auto V is satire and not meant to be taken seriously anyway. Everyone in Grand Theft Auto V is a caricature, all the way from the black drug dealer to the rich white psychopath in his mansion. Themes of capitalism, the American dream, and crime are parodied in these titles. Despite the fact that these titles are extreme parodies, they are still a scathing critique of contemporary America. For some reason, Carolyn Petit completely missed the point that Grand Theft Auto V tries to make.

Petit does eventually list some examples of misogyny such as “with ads that equate manhood with sleek sports cars while encouraging women to purchase a fragrance that will make them ‘smell like a bitch.’” And then right after follows it up with: “Yes, these are exaggerations of misogynistic undercurrents in our own society, but not satirical ones.” This is a slight contradiction on her part because exaggeration is a form of satire. The theme of exaggerated characters and situations are prevalent in the entire series.

The three men you take control of throughout the game aren’t even anti-heroes. They’re just scumbags.

The Escapist‘s review of Grand Theft Auto V was on the “low” end of the scale with a score of 3.5/5, but ironically enough it was the one that has made me most excited for the game. It was written by Greg Tito, who some might remember as the chap who gave Dragon Age II a 10/10. Tito spends most of the review praising the gameplay but then docks the game a few points because the characters are “scumbags.” That is some high praise and illustrates why I am now excited for this game.

Deplorable human beings and ones who could not at all exist in our world are infinitely interesting. Consider Breaking Bad. Walter White is an awful human being, yet everyone tunes in Sunday night and it is the highest rated show currently on TV. Walter White makes viewers hate him, but that is ultimately why he is so compelling to watch.

I applaud Rockstar for not being afraid to depict characters that are not perfect and do not try to be. Too many writers focus on their protagonist being a “good guy” and put too much stock into projection. I do not need to project myself on to every character to enjoy the game and since video games are escapism, being able to be control someone else appeals much more to me than a blank slate or drab good guys like Nathan Drake.

Despite a lack of interest in playing video games, I still follow the industry closely. Grand Theft Auto V‘s release is exciting to me because of all the discourse these titles generate. Who knows, maybe I will play the title to completion as well.

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Review – The Swapper (PC) Tue, 10 Sep 2013 21:52:59 +0000 The indie game scene has had no shortage of puzzle games over the years. In a post-Braid world, it has become rather common for the most noteworthy indie games to have puzzle elements, and luckily we’ve gotten plenty of entertaining ones over the years. In 2013 the puzzle game you definitely need to play is The Swapper, a moody atmospheric puzzle game built on using clones to solving its puzzles.

The game what initially comes off as a simple set up. The basic premise ultimately falls right in line with an Event Horizon or a Dead Space. Group of scientists bring something on board, it makes everyone go crazy and before long the entire station is abandoned. What makes The Swapper so engaging, however, on its narrative level is what it focuses on with this premise.

The titular Swapper is a device that lets you create a clone of your playable character up to 4 times. They all move parallel with your movements, and you have the ability to actually switch from clone to clone, and the game deals with larger questions concerning these clones. Do they have a soul? Exactly what is a mind to begin with? In some stretches it can be a little much, but for the most part the game handles all of this with a deft touch. Usually cryptic enough to stay interesting, but answering enough along the way to keep you invested.

It works especially well because of the superb atmosphere in The Swapper. The game uses Claymation-like visuals to create its environments. It’s not exactly Gumby, but similar ideas are at play here: take a fair amount of commonplace items and create environments out of them. The end result is something truly striking and a cohesive visual aesthetic. Great use of lighting gives certain rooms a unique sense of flavor and variety, but never allows any one section to feel disjointed.

Of course, none of this would mean anything if actually playing The Swapper wasn’t enjoyable. The Swapper is certainly one of the mort clever puzzle games you will ever play, to say the least. The controls are mostly sharp, and you’re well-equipped to handle every puzzle the game throws at you from the get-go. There is no upgrading and the core mechanics don’t change. Certain actions might not feel as fluid, but they are never really cause of any frustration when you misfire.

The structure is a mix of linear puzzle game and Metroid. You will navigate through the space station, which usually requires some form of backtracking. Unlike Metroid, it’s not about coming back with new gear, and more often than not you’ll find a way to fast travel back to previous locations. Each room is filled with its own unique puzzle that requires you to pick up an orb. These orbs are what you need to open up the next area in the game.

You don’t have to solve every current puzzle you have on your map before you’re allowed to move to the next area. This ultimately allows the game to keep the pace going, and make sure the player doesn’t get bogged down in any one area. Plus you’ll be able to come back to a puzzle with a fresh perspective based on what you learned from other puzzles later in the game. You do, however, need to solve every puzzle to get to the end.

Now I did say the game doesn’t really change on a mechanical level, and that’s true. But to keep the puzzles interesting, the game usually throws in a new wrinkle or two with its puzzle designs. Your basic abilities allow you to create clones, and swap back and forth between them. A lot of the game is simply creating a clone at a specific point (usually on a higher ledge) and swapping to that clone in some fashion. The catch is that the environments have specific colored lights meant to hinder you. Blue lights stop you from creating clones in that area, red lights stop you from swapping between clones, and purple ones? You got it, they stop both. You’ll also deal with pressure plates and gravity while you’re at it.

The game uses these elements in genius ways to create puzzle designs that are elaborate in their look, but not really as complex as they seem. One such instance had me dealing with pressure plates and gravity, requiring me to carefully place each clone on a specific plate to get one clone closer to an orb. Some of these clones were upside down, and others were right side up. These pressure plates had an effect on walls that would block the path, so I had to gather my remaining clones to open up a clean path to swap to my destination. I had to be mindful of every movement I make because I had to place each clone just right. After all, when I move, all the clones move in the same direction. Once everything was set, it was a simple matter of swapping between one clone to another, and then finally getting the orb I’d worked so hard to pick up.

The Swapper is simple and clever all the way through. No one puzzle is too difficult, but they are all intricate along the way, never really requiring a solution where you need to think outside the box, but ultimately satisfying due to their detailed nature. And it is an absolute joy to solve these puzzles to boot. Plenty of puzzle games know how to stump you, and usually it’s because they’re obtuse about it. Other games make things too easy, and are rather forgettable for it. The Swapper avoids the fate of the latter by being sophisticated enough on a design front to make the player feel resourceful. Not many puzzle games can lay claim to such sharp puzzle design that make the player feel brilliant along the way. The Swapper can make that claim as it does it consistently throughout the 4-5 hour experience.

Yes, the game is short, but the brevity of the game allows it to end before it overstays its welcome. Ultimately, though, I was left wanting a little bit more, because as clever as The Swapper is, it ultimately lacks significant brain teasers. A few head-scratchers really would have put the game over, and the lack of them makes replaying this game less rewarding as a whole. The solutions ultimately end up being simple enough most of the way through that you’ll probably solve many of the puzzles fairly quickly. And while the narrative has its moments, such as the environmental story-telling and the cryptic files you find along the way, there is something lacking there as well. The game has two distinct endings, and depending on your decision you can get something more memorable or frankly something forgettable.

A few generations ago, all of this would be afterthoughts for a game so clever from beginning to end. But in a generation that has had so many excellent puzzle games The Swapper is simply another really good one. And if that sounded like something you don’t think you should play, then you have a problem. Because The Swapper is definitely worth playing.

The Good

  • Clever puzzles
  • Strong isolated atmosphere
  • Striking visual design
  • Interesting narrative themes
  • Fitting music

The Bad

  • No major head-scratchers
  • One of the two endings is weak

Final Score – 8/10

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Review – Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon (3DS) Tue, 10 Sep 2013 16:50:23 +0000 2001’s Luigi’s Mansion allowed Luigi to finally take the spotlight away from his older, more successful brother. The Gamecube launch title, while charming, was unfortunately lacking, ultimately too simple, easy, and short to be anything memorable, or frankly worth a spin. Now, a dozen years later, Luigi finally gets another crack at the spot light with Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon.

Professor E. Gadd is back again as this time his spectral assistants have turned naughty on him. Why? Because the Dark Moon has vanished from the sky over Evershade Valley, obviously. So naturally, he brings in our reluctant hero Luigi to suck up some ghosts and figure out exactly where that Dark Moon went. The opening stretch is long in the tooth like many modern day Nintendo games. You’ll probably be navigating through a copious amount of text dialogue even with the setup being so basic. Powering through this long-winded opening does get you to what is mostly an admirable job on Next Level Games part though. They have taken the base formula of the original, and fleshed it out into an even more robust adventure game.

The defining aspect of this game is its atmosphere. Dark Moon is a game overflowing with charm and personality. The ghosts of Dark Moon are funny, playful, borderline vindictive and interesting in ways most Nintendo enemies (Mario Bros. enemies specifically) simply aren’t. Dark Moon even has a character that might belong in the discussion of cutest Nintendo creation in the Polterpup, a playful ghost dog who routinely shows up to play fetch with Luigi. Simply put, he’s cute as hell. The mansions themselves are highlights of their own. Gone is the lone mansion of the original and in its place are five aesthetically varied mansions, all of which have a Scooby-Doo-esque brand of comically spooky atmosphere going for them.

Luigi is even more endearing with his rather cowardly, but ultimately humorous ways. The way he curls up every time he’s zapped into the next mission is funny. If you let your game stay idle for too long, he hums along with the background music, and watching some of the physical comedy that Luigi goes through in the cut-scenes is a delight of its own.

The aesthetics aren’t the only things that got fleshed out this time, however. The gameplay structure is completely different from the original. Aside from more mansions, Dark Moon is a mission based game. Each mission has its own set of objectives to complete, usually requiring Luigi to hunt down a key, check a room, or escort some Toads. Each mansion ends on a possessor boss fight in which ghosts possess a larger, more menacing object, such as a giant spider.

Many of these missions are genuinely fun and part of that is due to your interactions with the environments. You can pull curtains, shake some tables, mess with ledges and so on. There is also a device that lets you find hidden objects. Some puzzles will ask you to move an item from one room to the next. Though some of these can get silly or obtuse with specifics, there are a fair amount of intricate and clever puzzles that should satisfying. Most of them however are very basic, and by the numbers after a while.

In combat, Dark Moon works similar to the original. You have a charge flash for your flashlight, and you suck up ghosts with the right shoulder button. Ghosts are varied enough to keep you on your toes. The by-the-numbers green ghosts eventually switch up their tactics by putting on sunglasses, or even picking up a sword and shield. Other ghosts can be spongier; there are also prankster types. By the midway point, these ghosts will be super charged, which really just makes all the ghosts have more health, and one extra trick up their sleeve.

Most of the time the combat feels solid. Even though this is a 3D adventure game built around one analog stick (or circle pad since this is the 3DS), a fair amount of the encounters are built with the idea that your movements are restricted in mind. However, for all the fleshing out and improving, Dark Moon has done, there are some noteworthy failures along the way, the most offensive of which are unfortunately tied to the mission designs.

In the early going, the game is a flighty affair that is still far too easy at times. While the original game was too short, this game feels padded out. Each mansion has at least one or two missions that simply feel like work or are there to artificially prolong the adventure. Escorting Toads from one point to the next is rarely done in a clever way. Ghosts only interact with Toads in a meaningful way that changes the gameplay a handful of times. Most of the time, these missions feel like any other moment in the game except now you’re escorting a character who is deathly afraid of water, or something silly like that.

The aforementioned adorable Polterpup is used in a similar manner as well. His missions comprise entirely of hunting the dog down to retrieve what he has stolen from you, usually by going from one room to the next until you finally get a chance to suck him up. Most of the time you’re just backtracking through environments you’ve already been to.

Boss fights are major let downs to this adventure. Modern day Nintendo boss fights have routinely become easy, but the adventure games like Metroid/Zelda have at least made efforts into making these fights interesting. The ones found in Dark Moon are by-the-numbers pattern-based fights. Dodge this, dodge that, flash, and suck up the ghost and some of the later ones are simply long in the tooth or just tedious.

One such fight has you going through twelve waves of enemies before you can finish the ghost off. And while these sequence can be intense, it can be just as frustrating. The game has no checkpoint system, so a death fairly late into the mission means you do the entire mission over from the beginning – cutscenes included. Usually the no checkpoint system is fine as these missions aren’t long, but there are missions that overstay their welcome, and having to do them all over again from the beginning is a frustrating punishment.

This is further exacerbated by encounters that ask too much of the gameplay mechanics. Because of the deliberate (or restricted) nature of Luigi’s combat movements, you are rarely well-equipped enough to deal with large groups of enemies. A sequence at the tail end of the game asks the player to go through a series of ghost hunts, dealing with larger groups while also having to take into account a time limit, going back and forth through the mansion as quickly as possible, and often hoping to quickly pick up some health along the way. It’s challenging, but not in a rewarding sense. When you conquer it, you’re more likely to feel you got lucky that certain encounters went a certain way so you had time to spare.

In other stretches, you have to deal with some hardware gimmicks, namely the gyroscope being used in any sequence where Luigi has to walk across tight beams. You can cheat on these by just putting your 3DS on a flat surface, raising the question why couldn’t it just be on an analog in the first place? Another moment where the gyroscope rears its ugly head is during a boss fight where you use a cannon to knock off the boss’ shell. Now you can use an analog to aim, but the screen also moves with any motion you do with the 3DS. It makes controlling that cannon a larger hassle than it has to be.

On the other hand in terms of gimmicks, Dark Moon might be the best use of 3D in a videogame on the 3DS. The presentational touches are clever and genius in their own right, and the game makes good use of it, by simply shifting the camera angle to provide some depth to a hallway with spiders slowly coming down from the ceilings, or by showing you a mirror version of the room for you to find a hidden secret. Few games use their presentation to their advantage the way Dark Moon does.

To round out the package, there is a cooperative mode called Scarescraper. It’s one tall mansion where you and 3 other players try to hunt down some ghosts, find a key, or try to tackle a Polterpup. This can lead to some surprisingly fun and frantic action as you and the other players race against the clock. It’s lacking in terms of variety, and communication options are limited, but it’s a fun diversion in its own right.

When it comes down to it, there are plenty of reasons to at least try out Dark Moon. It’s a style of adventure game that is genuinely unique from anything else Nintendo makes or is making, and very few Nintendo franchises have the surplus of charm that Luigi’s adventure has. But it’s also a drawn out and still far too simplistic adventure as well. Moments that are meant to be intense highlights are usually sources of unrewarding frustration. Ultimately, Dark Moon amounts to a game that is at least worth trying out to see where the series went from the original game. It just becomes too much of a chore to ever feel like something consistent.

The Good

  • Charm in spades
  • Great animations and clever use of 3D
  • The Polterpup is cute

The Bad

  • Some missions are outright filler and padding
  • No check point can lead to tedium
  • Boss fights are forgettable
  • The gyroscope is unnecessary

Final Score – 5/10

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The Endless Videocast Inaugural Episode – Saints Row IV Tue, 10 Sep 2013 14:23:46 +0000 The Endless Backlog Crew has come together for our first ever Videocast. Join Justin and Gagan as they play Saints Row IV cooperatively and discuss Saints Row IV (no spoilers here folks!) and the Saints Row series as a whole, one of the breakout hit new IPs of the outgoing console generation.

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The Brocast Episode 17 – Indie Games Edition Sun, 01 Sep 2013 15:25:56 +0000 GUFUYourself Podcast Temp Logo

The GUFUyourself Brocast crew brings you another episode of The Brocast, this time focusing on indie games, which have taken the gaming industry by storm and featured prominently not only on PC but as an integral part of the launch lineups of next gen consoles, especially Sony’s Playstation 4. We’ve been playing indie games as well over the years and have plenty to say about the recent indie game push in the games industry and discuss the importance of indie games in the industry moving forward. So join Justin, Brian, Will and your host, Gagan for Episode 17 of The Brocast!

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Review – Saints Row IV (PC) Fri, 30 Aug 2013 13:00:25 +0000 Saints Row IV 11

You know things are going to be crazy when, in the very first mission, you find yourself infiltrating a terrorist base and after failing to stop the launch of a nuclear missile, you jump aboard it and attempt to disable it in mid-air. And then you’re the President of the United States. But before you’re properly settled in to the Oval Office, Earth is attacked by the Zin Empire and its leader, Zinyak, and you and the Saints are abducted.

Saints Row IV doesn’t waste time in turning things up to eleven, that’s for sure.

Abducted and imprisoned within a simulated Steelport, Mr. (or Madam) President must rally the Third Street Saints and mount an insurrection against the Zin Empire to reclaim their home world. Saints Row IV wears its inspiration on its sleeve, with its Matrix-esque simulation and hilarious romance sequences that take the piss out of Mass Effect and, of course, titles like Infamous, Prototype and Crackdown, which imbue the player with various super powers. Yes, in Saints Row IV, you’ll have number of elemental powers at your disposal which are both intuitive to access and fun to use, adding another layer of excitement to the combat.

Within the simulation, the game plays very similarly to Prototype and Crackdown, complete with super sprinting, super jump and gliding abilities. It’s all pretty natural and mostly intuitive and makes using vehicles to get around a thing of the past (and kudos to Volition for putting the radio in your head so you can enjoy it outside of cars). I say “mostly” intuitive because there’s no way to voluntarily turn your powers “off,” which makes moving around in tight spaces more difficult than it needs to be. But, this is more of a nitpick than a real knock against the game as it rarely puts you in those tight spaces to begin with. Otherwise, this plays very similarly to Saints Row: The Third and anyone familiar with that control scheme will feel right at home here. The controls are tight and responsive and I don’t have any qualms with them.

With all of these new powers, and some creative weapons like a Dubstep gun and a black hole generator at your disposal within the simulation, one has to imagine that the game would have to be pretty well balanced to provide a meaningful challenge. Well, that’s where Saints Row IV trips up. The game is, for the most part, a cakewalk on normal difficulty and only mildly challenging on hardcore mode. Early in the game, when you haven’t upgraded much of anything, the weapons are piss weak and your powers are relatively limited in effectiveness, but as you find more clusters and upgrade your powers and weaponry, the game’s only response to up the ante is not to make the enemies more challenging, but to throw more of them at you. Like Saints Row: The Third, enemies are plentiful and bullet-sponges, but with your powers at your disposal, dispatching them is quite easy most of the time.

Saints Row IV 6

Saints Row IV’s strongest aspect, surprisingly, isn’t its gameplay. Rather, it’s the writing that makes this stand out as what will most likely be the funniest game of the year. Saints Row’s humor has always been pretty sharp, but it usually relied on crassness or the sheer ludicrousness of the situations the protagonist found himself in. While Saints Row 2 mainly played it straight and much of the humor was derived from the errant absurdity of situations the protagonist found himself in, and watching him, for example, try to rationalize driving a septic truck around and spraying liquefied poo on any and everything to cross his path. Saints Row: The Third took that errant absurdity and made it the norm, rather than the exception.

Saints Row IV builds upon that formula and polishes it to a fine luster, incorporating various approaches to humor that are equal parts crass and genuinely witty. But at the same time, it assumes a certain degree of knowledge of both video game tropes and pop culture. On one hand, you have your video game references (that I won’t spoil, don’t worry) that play upon the tropes of certain genres so sharply that at one point I had to pause the game because I was laughing so hard. On the other, there was a reference near the end that was so obscure I didn’t even know it was made until I talked with a friend about it. I imagine it was a brilliant reference that paid the proper respect to the property it lampooned, but it flew too far above my head to arouse more than a brief chuckle.

Saints Row IV’s humor also takes a good, long look at the franchise itself and what it used to be. This is a game that is very much self-aware and pokes fun of itself, as Saints Row: The Third did, but it doesn’t just do it occasionally; it runs rampant throughout the game. While the original Saints Row is sort of the red-headed stepchild of the series – a game that was solid in its own right but still firmly rooted in Grand Theft Auto’s shadow – it’s just as much required reading, so to speak, as its sequels. Volition clearly knows how to weave appropriate amounts of fan service into its games and it shows here. From the beginning, Saints Row IV is a treat for devoted fans of the franchise.

Saints Row IV 8

That’s not to say Saints Row IV is unapproachable for newcomers to the series or people largely ignorant of gaming culture (sorry, there’s no way to say that without sounding elitist). It’ll probably be plenty funny as long as you haven’t been living in a cave cut off from society for the last twenty years or so.

Early on, the game was firing on all cylinders in a manner similar to its predecessor, but without the sense that it’s constantly trying to top itself in terms of wackiness. Near the end, however, it feels like it’s losing steam and padding out the run time (which is even referenced for laughs at one point), but just because it can laugh at itself doesn’t make the padding good. The final act even sends you on a fetch quest, and a drawn out one at that. Again, the characters joke about it and it’s mildly amusing, but that didn’t make it less annoying from a gameplay perspective. It doesn’t help that the payoff in the final mission – which clearly draws inspiration from Mass Effect 2 – isn’t really satisfying.

So once again, I’m left conflicted by Saints Row IV, as I was with Saints Row: The Third. As much as it tries to up the ante and make you feel like this is taking place on a grand scale, much of it feels too familiar. Sure, you’re technically the President, but before you’re even settled in to the Oval Office, you’re abducted by the Zin and the next, Earth is blown to bits. Can we even say The Boss is the President anymore? It’s hard to be President of a country that’s since been reduced to space dust.

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By now, I’m sure you’re wondering where I’m going with this. Well, it’s just that your actions don’t seem to have much consequence. Earth was just destroyed and the Saints are set adrift alone in space knowing several of their friends and associates are dead (not to mention everyone else), and the game just seems to shrug and let out a half-hearted “meh” and then returns to its trademark craziness.

But maybe I’m missing the point. I appreciated the laughs I got from it, and at the end of the day, plenty of fun was had. Though this return to the Saints Row universe is a familiar one, and most of the flaws from its predecessor weren’t really addressed, it’s still fun. Saints Row IV doesn’t reinvent the wheel that has kept the series on track, but iterates on it, throwing superpowers into the mix and breaking from the “three gangs” structure with the Zin Empire, and it works. So, yes, Saints Row IV is more than worth playing, especially if you’re invested in the series. The comedy alone just shouldn’t be missed.

The Good

  • Well written and genuinely hilarious
  • Super powers work well
  • Great soundtrack
  • New weapons are fun to use

The Bad

  • Loses steam near the end
  • Steelport still isn’t that interesting
  • Too easy

Final Score – 7/10

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