All posts by eldritchrob

Yooka-Laylee: Familiar and Fulfilling

by Robert Orr

The year is 1998, and the Nintendo 64 is one of the hottest video game consoles on the market.

Coming off the success of Goldeneye, RareWare launches one of the greatest platformers of all time in Banjo-Kazooie. The game featured hilarious dialogue, endearing characters, vibrant graphics, and most importantly of all, exciting and rewarding gameplay. Rare followed up with a number of classics, which include a much loved sequel (aptly named Banjo-Tooie), Donkey Kong 64, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and Perfect Dark. Soon after, Nintendo announced the Gamecube, and rumors began circulating of what Rare’s next classic would be. Banjo-Threeie was teased numerous times, but the wait continued.

However, Rare and Nintendo’s partnership ended, and the company was acquired by Microsoft. Rare began developing games for the Xbox and later Xbox 360. Some were good, some were bad, but many were left wondering if Banjo-Threeie would ever see the light of day.

Eventually, news of a new Banjo-Kazooie game (Nuts and Bolts) finally surfaced. When the game was finally released, many fans were disappointed, as the classic platforming gameplay of the originals was replaced with a strange vehicle building quasi-sandbox. Suffice to say, the game was not well received by fans and critics alike, and many feared there would never be a true sequel to Banjo-Kazooie.

In 2012, a group of game designers, all veterans of RareWare’s heyday, decided to come together and form a new company, which would eventually be known as Playtonic Games. A Kickstarter for their newest endeavor, a true spiritual successor to RareWare’s greatest hit platformers, was successfully funded – a game called Yooka-Laylee.

Much like its precursors, Yooka-Laylee is a platforming game with a focus on collecting various items throughout large open worlds. Some of these items are used to buy new moves to help the titular heroes reach new areas of the game previously unreachable.

The main collectible, Pagies, are similar to Banjo-Kazooie’s Jiggies. Pagies are used to unlock new levels, and also “expand” existing levels, a new feature unique to Yooka-Laylee. Levels initially start off kind of small, but by paying a certain amount of extra Pagies (depending on the level), new sections of the level become available for the player to explore. Pagies are collected by completing various challenges throughout the level, which include completing puzzles and platforming challenges, defeating bosses, and simple exploration.

There’s also Ghost Writers, which are a bit tougher to collect, as they must be defeated and/or captured using the various special moves acquired throughout the game. There are additional unique items to be collected, which can be used in various ways in each level.

The levels themselves are huge. Banjo-Kazooie and Tooie were both known for their large levels (especially for the N64 era), but Yooka-Laylee takes it to the next level. With the edition of the expand feature, levels go from average-sized to gigantic worlds with a plethora of secrets. Each level is accessed through the hub world, Hivory Towers – this game’s analogue to Gruntilda’s Castle. Hivory Towers is massive in itself, with dozens of branching paths and secrets to be found. Aside from being the area where all the worlds are contained, Hivory Towers also serves as its own unique level, with various hidden collectibles and puzzles the player must complete in order to advance.

The characters are endearing and funny. Yooka the chameleon serves as the level-headed voice of reason of the duo, while Laylee the bat is a comedic and slightly sardonic foil to that. The main boss of the game, Capital B., is a nefarious honeybee businessman, and much like Gruntilda from Banjo-Kazooie, mocks Yooka and Laylee as they progress throughout the hub world. Capital B.’s partner is a strange duck head in a jar named Dr. Quack, who acts as the bumbling sidekick, designing trivia games to try and slow the player down as they progress through the game.

Also much like its predecessors, Yooka-Laylee features many side characters, as pretty much every item and inanimate object in the game can actually talk, and each of these side characters will quickly become loved by the player.

Graphically, Yooka-Laylee is gorgeous, featuring vibrant colors, dynamic light and shadows, and amazing high-def textures. The character animations are fluid and smooth, and the various transformations and special abilities are all creatively designed. The levels, aside from their titanic topography, are beautiful and unique, spanning various environments, from a tropical paradise to a frozen tundra – and even a casino. As with everything else, these levels are colorful and visually appealing, and players may find themselves climbing to the highest point of each level to just admire the scenery.

There are however, a few performance hiccups, which is to be expected from a game this new, and will most likely be patched as time goes on. It has also been reported by individuals who received early copies of the game that the camera had some issues. However, a first day patch seems to have fixed whatever problems there were with the camera, and aside from a few areas where it can get a bit crazy, the camera control is fairly solid.

Overall, Yooka-Laylee is a well-designed game, and while it does have a few flaws, these are minor in comparison to all the positive aspects of the game. Veterans of the original RareWare classics on the N64 will love Yooka-Laylee, although the gameplay may seem a bit dated to younger players. That said, Yooka-Laylee really does bring something for everyone to the table, and even younger players will grow to love it with time. The gameplay is simple enough for anyone to pick up and play, but has enough difficulty that even seasoned players of the platforming genre will find themselves with quite a challenge in completing the levels.

For those Rare fans who’ve been waiting years for Banjo-Threeie, the wait is finally over, and although it isn’t a true Banjo-Kazooie sequel, Yooka-Laylee certainly fills that void.

Dark Souls III – Farewell to an Epic Friend

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FromSoftware’s titan of a series has finally come to an end; not with a whimper – but with a bang.

Dark Souls III arrived in April to the delight of millions of fans worldwide just itching to spew curse words at their TV’s. After an absence from Dark Souls II, FromSoftware’s main man Hidetaka Miyazaki returns to his rightful place as director of the project this time around (and it definitely shows). From the complex yet simple level design to the extremely deep combat mechanics, Miyazaki-san’s presence is most certainly felt in the latest (and final) installment.

Dark Souls III begins in the future of the Souls timeline, after Dark Souls II and well after Dark Souls. The cycle that players have been a part of since the beginning has gone askew, with different timelines and dimensions now all converging on one point. Dark Souls III’s plot can be very confusing to newcomers, especially those who have not played the previous installments and their respective DLCs, so it is definitely a good idea for those new to the series to at the very least read a plot synopsis up until this point. The story for the most part remains fairly open-ended (as the previous games have), so that the player can speculate and figure out the plot for themselves. By doing this, FromSoftware has managed to create a tight-knit community that is able to openly debate not only the mechanics of the game, but the plot as well.

The setting this time around is Lothric, which is clearly influenced by all the previous souls games, including Bloodborne and Demon Souls (two games with similar mechanics to Dark Souls but with different plots and settings). The level design is breathtaking, with plenty of gorgeous vistas that one can easily get lost in. Miyazaki’s influence is perhaps best felt in the level design, which shift away from the numerous checkpoints of Dark Souls II back to a more “shortcut” based design. Rather than having bonfires to rest at/warp to spread around everywhere, Souls III requires the player to be a bit more observant, looking for hidden paths, ladders and elevators that allow for massive skips in the level. The levels are also massive, with numerous branching paths and plenty of hidden secrets to explore.

Combat has also been changed again for DS III, taking elements from Dark Souls, DS II and even Bloodborne; creating a hybrid system which works very well. There does seem to be some balancing issues however, with magic, dark magic and miracles being slightly underpowered compared to previous installments. Pyromancy works very well and with a bunch of new spells mixed in with the classic favorites, there is definitely something for everyone. Weapons are also still a bit unbalanced, with early game strength weapons being almost useless versus the faster dexterity-based weapons. However, late-game really balances out the different weapon types, making numerous builds viable in late-game PvP.

One mechanic that still remains shrouded in mystery is the poise mechanic. In previous Souls games, poise was a measure of how many hits your character could take before you were “staggered.” In DS III however, it’s unclear exactly what poise does, as there doesn’t seem to be any difference in armor types when it comes to how fast someone is staggered. There is speculation among fans that poise somehow effects how many frames of “hyper armor” one has when doing certain moves, which makes the character temporarily unstaggerable (although it has not been confirmed or denied by FromSoftware yet). This mystery just adds to the mountain of information players are still attempting to sift through and decipher months after the initial release.

Another strong point of Dark Souls III is its multiplayer. Up to six player “phantoms” can be summoned at once, which is a mechanic originally introduced in Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin, but has since been improved upon. Depending on the area, hosts can summon up to three friends for co-op with two more slots open for other players to “invade.”

The way that covenants work has also been improved, with special equipable items to signify one’s covenant, making it easier to switch on the fly between your different covenants (covenants are factions within Souls that award you special items based on your co-op or player vs. player participation). Speaking of covenants, another improvement is the addition of the Mound Makers covenant (essentially a “neutral” covenant). In previous games, it was basically the host and his co-op phantoms versus any invading red phantoms. In DS III, the host can summon or be invaded by a purple phantom, who can either co-op with the host OR kill him. Purple phantoms also receive rewards for attacking other phantoms of any color, so it’s actually beneficial for them to keep the host alive. This adds a whole new layer to the multiplayer which was not present in the previous games. However, multiplayer does still have its quirks. Although greatly improved over the other games in the series, there is still some issues with lag which can effect the outcome of player duels. There has also been an ongoing problem with hackers on the PC version, with even innocent players being banned just for accidental interaction with hackers. FromSoft is currently still working on these problems and have been slowly improving the situation, so it’s likely within the next few months they will be fixed for the most part.

Overall, Dark Souls III is an amazing experience, both for fans of the series and newcomers. From the gorgeous levels to the extremely in-depth combat mechanics, there is something for any hardcore RPG player. Those craving a challenge will also love Dark Souls III. It pulls no punches in its difficulty level, harkening back to the days of the NES and games like the original Castlevania. With DLC currently in development, tons of replayabilty and awesome endgame content, Dark Souls III will certainly keep fans playing for quite a long time.

Warhammer End Times: Vermintide

Warhammer End Times: Vermintide is a new FPS from developer Fatshark, who are perhaps best known for their Medieval combat game, War of the Roses.

The game takes place in the Warhammer fantasy universe (the lesser-well known sibling of the futuristic Warhammer 40k), both tabletop games from developer Games Workshop. While perhaps not everyone’s favorite Games Workshop IP, Warhammer fantasy still brings rich lore and fun gameplay mechanics to the table. Unlike Warhammer 40k, however, Warhammer fantasy has traditionally not translated as well to the electronic medium.

Vermintide heavily pays homage to Left 4 Dead, with four adventurers fighting through swarms of Skaven- evil humanoid rats with a hatred for mankind in place of zombies. Much like L4D, there are several “special” enemies that have different abilities than the average Skaven.

This is where Vermintide begins to fall short, with the unique Skaven being almost complete rip-offs of L4D enemies. For example, there is an enemy called the Packmaster which hooks players and drags them off (much like the Smoker from L4D), and a Hunter-esque enemy called the Gutter Runner, which leaps onto the player and pins them down while stabbing them. Vermintide even features a direct rip-off of L4D’s tank enemy called the Rat Ogre. Other than the unique Skaven that clearly rip-off L4D, Vermintide’s standard enemies are just plain boring. Hordes of rats run at you much the same way the standard infected in L4D do, with no regards to their own personal safety. That would be fine if every level didn’t include these same enemies either standing around doing nothing or blindly rushing at you like crazy Wal-Mart shoppers on Black Friday. After a while, players will find it almost becomes a chore simply cutting through the same enemies over and over again.

Vermintide’s other big problem is the optimization. Sudden frame rate drops, random bugs and crashes plague Vermintide at random intervals. Even the best machines it seems have sudden frame drops for no apparent reason.

Other than optimization issues, Vermintide’s bugs can make the game range from absolutely hilarious at times to down right frustrating. Many of these bugs happen when one of the game’s special enemies attacks and include players being launched into the sky where their allies can’t save them, or pulled through walls by the Packmaster’s hook. Enemies sometimes even seem to spawn out of nowhere and/or teleport with no explanation as to how. Certain levels also contain easily exploitable designs, making the threat of certain enemies (such as the Rat Ogre) completely moot.

Vermintide’s loot system (while innovative) also fall short. Players may customize their chosen hero with different equipment from weapons to trinkets which add special abilities. At the end of each level, a number of dice are rolled to determine which piece of loot the player receives for winning with higher dice rolls netting the player rarer and more powerful items. These dice rolls can be augmented with pick-ups throughout the level, which add more dice that have a better chance at higher rolls.

Unfortunately because it is completely random, even with the best dice there is no guarantee the player will receive a rare item. This can be very frustrating,  as pretty much the only way to beat higher difficulty levels and ultimately receive rarer loot is to outfit yourself with rare items.

Combat can also be very tedious. Each character is equipped with both a ranged and melee weapon and while some of the weapons are fairly unique, the fighting itself is very straightforward and standard.

For a game whose primary focus is close-quarters combat, Vermintide’s melee combat is just plain boring, usually turning into button mashing as you cut down hordes of enemies. There are no combos and only two different types of attacks – regular “light” hits and heavier “sweeping” hits for crowd control (performed by holding down the attack button briefly). There’s also a block button, but enemies can break your block after just a few hits (more or less depending on the enemy), rendering blocks mostly useless.

One aspect in which Vermintide does well is the playable characters. There are five heroes to choose from, each of which brings a unique gameplay style and a role that they fulfill within the group.

The Soldier for example, uses mostly large melee weapons and powerful muskets/blunderbusses, makes for a great heavy hitter and also can use his huge sweeping attacks for crowd control. The Witch Hunter is almost a hybrid class with a good balance of quick melee and ranged attacks. The Elf Archer is pretty standard, providing ranged support with the quick-firing bow while also able to provide quick melee strikes. The Dwarf Ranger makes a great tank, as his default weapon is an ax/shield combo allowing him to form a living wall in the small corridors and alleyways the players often traverse. Rounding out the list is the Battlemage, who is perhaps the most unique hero of all. While having a fairly week melee attack, the Battlemage can use powerful and fast ranged spells to utterly blow away hordes of Skaven. The Battlemage can also charge up her ranged spell and fire an explosive shard that deals massive damage.

Unfortunately, where Vermintide goes right is not enough to redeem the entire experience. This very well could have been a great game. It has all the right elements: unique characters, a great IP to work with, an innovative loot system, and tons of replayability. Unfortunately, it falls short in far too many of these areas to make it the next big thing. Vermintide becomes far too grindy and predictable after only a short period of play. Perhaps with some time, developer Fatshark will add content to the game such as new levels and enemies that will make the experience more interesting but until then, Vermintide remains just another mediocre FPS.

How Crowdfunding Will Save the Gaming Industry

Roughly a month ago, a team of veteran game developers came together for the first time in years and launched a Kickstarter for a game harkening back to the classic days of 3D platforming.

Made up of all former Rare members, the team (Playtonic Games) was famous for this style of game, creating such classics as Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64. Within 38 minutes of launch, the game was completely funded, and has now stretched well passed its goal in the few weeks since the campaign started. The game, titled “Yooka-Laylee” is being touted as a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie, and is already shaping up to be much more interesting than any of the other dreck the Triple A companies are producing.

Several weeks after the launch of one of the biggest games on Kickstarter, another industry veteran, Koji Igarashi, known best for arguably the greatest games in the Castlevania series (Symphony of the Night, Dawn of Sorrow, and the other “metroidvanias”) launched his own Kickstarter for a new action RPG platformer titled Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. Again, this game was funded shortly after the Kickstarter launched, and has reached several stretch goals since then.

These two instances are not unique. More and more, industry veterans are leaving triple A companies to start their own development teams, and are turning to Kickstarter or other crowdfunding instead of major publishers. Many of these games get funded, and most of them are much more innovative and interesting than anything the major developers are cooking up. While many journalists and big-wigs in the industry are warning of a coming collapse, indie developers keep plugging away doing more for video games than any big company has done in a decade.

Of course, crowdfunding has its downsides, as there have been several instances of indie studios funding a game and then going belly-up, leaving the investors twisting in the wind. However; with more well-known industry veterans coming into the fold, it is looking like the future of video games lies in the hands of indie companies. As the major developers keep pushing out the same games over and over again, independent companies are looking for new and exciting ways to change video gaming as a whole. When not constrained by the schedule and guidelines of big-name publishers (most of which are run by people who have never even played a video game, let alone made one), creativity flows much freer, and ingenuity prevails.

Let the industry collapse. Let the corporate side of the video game industry continue on its downward spiral of awful, repetitive games. Once the dust settles, a new era will begin in the gaming industry, an era that is reminiscent of the 90s, when games were more an art form than a cash cow, and the community was much more close-knit. Like a phoenix from the ashes, the industry will be rejuvenated, and although it still won’t be perfect, it will hopefully be much better than what exists now.

An Open Letter to Rockstar and other Triple A Developers

open letter to triple a and rockstarI recently picked up the PC version of Grand Theft Auto V, and I am hugely disappointed by it.

Having previously played the Xbox 360 version of GTA V, I knew how great the game was, and I was excited for all the new features being added to the PC release.  I waited in anticipation for months, as the release date was pushed back over and over again, but I said to myself, “It’s alright, better to have a great game with a later release”.  And then, the day finally came: GTA V on PC.

I planned on waiting a week or two before buying so I wouldn’t have to deal with release-week bullshit, but decided “eh what the hell” and bought it anyway the day after it came out.  I excitedly started the patcher and thus my first disappointment: I would have to wait over nine hours for the 50 plus gigabyte game to download.  I thought to myself, “It’s okay, this is a huge game after all.”  I decided to let it download overnight so that I could play it in the morning.

When the morning came, I got up, ate breakfast, and sat down at my PC ready to play.  What was I greeted by?  A five minute loading screen. “Okay, Okay, it’s not that bad,” I thought to myself. When I was finally able to play, I was greeted by the awesome “tutorial” bank robbery in the beginning.  I finished it, went through the couple of cinematics, and was soon on the first mission with Franklin.

I was, however; soon hit with my first crash.  “Well,” I thought, “I guess I should quit for now and go to work.”  This crash would be followed by several more throughout the following days, until a patch finally came out that seemed to fix it.

What the patch didn’t fix however, is the broken multiplayer.  GTA Online is perhaps the biggest selling point of GTA V: the ability to make your own character, start your own crew, do missions and heists with friends, and a multitude of other activities.  All of this would be great if I could actually fucking play it for longer than a few missions.  The lag is so bad, that a ride with a friend turns into us staring at each other in the car not moving while the server catches up.  NPCs teleport around, cars rubber-band into the sky and through the ground, and mission objectives don’t update.  Now, to be fair, I have been able to play for extended periods of time without lag.  However, the stuff that really counts-missions and heists, become pretty much unplayable depending on who the host is.

Now if this was a brand new game, I could forgive it.  After all, every game has some hiccups on launch week, so it is to be expected that a game as huge as GTA V would have some bugs.  There is one thing that makes this unacceptable:  THIS GAME HAS BEEN OUT FOR OVER A YEAR AND  A HALF.  GTA V originally came out for Xbox 360 and PS3 in September of 2013 (I remember, I was at the midnight launch), and GTA Online was released a few weeks later.  So it’s not like Rockstar didn’t know what they were doing.  Not only that, but the Xbox One and PS4 came out FIVE MONTHS AGO.  Rockstar had more than enough time to test server stability, playtest for bugs and crashes, and better optimize the game for PC.  THEY EVEN DELAYED THE PC RELEASE BY SEVERAL MONTHS.  There is absolutely no excuse for the sub-par quality of this port (READ: PORT; NOT BRAND NEW GAME).

This pattern of shit releases is not rare.  In fact, when a “triple A” game is released now-a-days, it is often EXPECTED for shit like this to happen.  Now what I want to know is when it became acceptable for a company to release a broken fucking game?  Years ago, if a game came out that was as buggy as most modern Triple A games are on release, it would be universally panned for being a shitty, unplayable game.  But now, for some reason, these games get a free pass because the company that makes them has been known to release good games in the past.

It’s as if their past achievements somehow validate any game they release in the future.

Not only that, most Triple A companies have a legion of fan-boys and apologists that try to make nothing but excuses for the shit games they put out.  “Oh how could you expect a game to be working perfectly on release”.  I don’t expect it to be perfect on release, but if I am going to spend $60 (or more in some cases) of hard-earned money on it, IT BETTER FUCKING BE AT LEAST PLAYABLE.

This problem is not exclusive to Rockstar.  The list of games that were broken on release is as big as the national debt these days.  Battlefield 4, Hardline, Assasin’s Creed Unity, Dragonball: Xenoverse, Sim City; the list goes on and on.

These aren’t games from tiny companies with two guys in their mom’s garage.  These are huge corporations with multiple studios around the world and hundreds or even thousands of people working on them.  In fact, the games made by two people in their mom’s garage tend to be HUGELY superior in terms of stability on release.

Why is it that games that have multi-million dollar budgets as big (or bigger) than Hollywood movies, with huge teams of some of the best (allegedly) programmers in the world, and (in some cases it seems) nearly unlimited amount of time to work on the game can’t ever get it right on release?  Why do players who spend $60 or more on these games have to wait weeks or months before they can actually play the game they bought?  And more importantly, why do people try to make excuses for this?

If I pay for a product, I expect to get my money’s worth out of it, and honestly, I rarely do anymore.  We as players, as consumers, should not be putting up with this.  I’d rather wait an extra year for a game to come out for it to be playable on release than get it early but broken and unplayable.  There is even less of an excuse for games that are ported to other consoles.  These are games that have been out, that all the code has been written for, and have already been optimized for something less powerful than the average gaming PC, but are still broken.

Here’s a radical idea developers: DESIGN THE GAME FOR PC AND PORT IT TO FUCKING CONSOLES.  There was a time when PC had the most cutting edge games, and the consoles got the watered-down, shitty ports.  Now, the opposite is true.  Triple A developers don’t give a shit about the PC gaming market anymore because the console market is worth more to them.  So instead of maximizing capabilities of a game and fully optimizing it, they essentially handicap it so it will run on consoles so they can make more money.

It’s now at the point where I will no longer buy Triple A games at full price because I know they aren’t worth $60 most of the time.  I’d rather wait six months to a year for a Steam sale, because I know that by then at least most of the bugs will be fixed and it will be somewhat playable.

Triple A developers have lost their passion for making games.  The industry has become much too corporate.  People who have no business running a game development company are at the helm, and they couldn’t care less about releasing a quality product as long as whatever they put out makes them money.  It makes me sad, knowing that an environment which I have always loved and felt at home in has become a barren wasteland of corporate interests.

It makes me sad to know that games from small developers with tiny budgets are far more playable than games that have bigger budgets than most Hollywood movies; but people still go for the big budget games just because of brand loyalty or past achievements. It especially makes me sad that people keep going for this system. They are so entrenched and blinded by big money that they can’t see that what the industry is pumping out these days would not have been acceptable 10 or 15 years ago.  My advice to anyone reading this: don’t buy Triple A games at full price. Read about what kind of problems people have been experiencing, and ALWAYS take mainstream gaming news reviews with a grain of salt, because half the time they are paid to overlook major issues.

Sincerely,

A Very Disgruntled Gamer

Elite Dangerous Review

Elite: Dangerous  is a space trading and combat sim made by developer David Braben and Frontier Developments.  It is the first game in the Elite series since 1995’s “Frontier: First Encounters and its safe to say the wait has been well worth it.

The game takes place in a 1:1 scale model of the Milky Way Galaxy, with  thousands of real star systems to visit( including our own) and billions more procedurally generated systems based on scientific models.  Elite can be played both offline and in a massively-multiplayer fashion in which players can interact with each other in number of ways.  A crowd-funding campaign for the game was started back in 2012, and after several stages of development and testing; the full release came in December of 2014.

Like many space sims, the player is able to control every aspect of their ship, from lights and landing gear, to power regulation of the various systems.  Unlike past space sims, Elite allows the player to look around the cockpit of their starship and actually interact with the various screens and HUDs present.  Almost any ship function from targeting to silent running can be manually controlled by the player through this method, adding a level of depth that makes Elite unique among current space games.

Elite: Dangerous, akin to many of its predecessors, is completely open-ended.  Players have can choose a number of different ways to make their mark in the galaxy, from legitimate activities like mining and trading to the more underhanded tactics like piracy and smuggling.  One of the best aspects of the trading system is that every system has its own economy which is completely player driven.  Market prices depend on supply and demand, and smart players will work out complex trading routes to maximize their profits.  Star ports also have “bulletin boards,” which allow players to take missions to assist various factions that operate out of the system.  Completing these missions not only means both credits and renown for the player, but also affects other missions available to other players.  For example, if one faction gains more ground in a system than another, it will change the types of missions available to players.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Elite: Dangerous is its tremendous scale..  It is impossible for any one person to explore every system, even if you spent  seconds in each one.  Players can spend hours exploring only to find that they have only traveled a few dozen light years away from where they began.  Exploration is actually a great way to make money starting out, as any scan data from stars or planets can be sold to stations that are 20 light years away or more for big money.  While that seems far, every ship is equipped with a “frame shift drive”, which allows for speedy travel from system to system.  The FSD is essential even for traveling to different planets within a system, however, as traveling at sub-light speeds could take hours, days, or even weeks of real time in some cases.  The vastness of the galaxy in Elite may also be a detractor for some, as players can spend  hours flying without encountering much more than a single star with no planets or stations.  Elite lives up to its “simulator” label; just as in real life, space is big and mostly empty.  There is also no way  to visit the surface of planets- only the stations that orbit them.  While some may find this disappointing, it is understandable considering for Elites budget and time frame.

Elite also may be a bit tricky for those without a controller or flight stick, as ships are able to fly not only up,down and side to side, but forwards and back as well.  Those who play flight sims may be a little thrown off, as normal rules of atmospheric flight don’t apply in the vacuum of space.  New players would be better suited to treating their ships as fast moving submarines rather than “flying machines”, as space is more a vast ocean than an open sky.  The game does, however, offer full controller and flight stick support, and even has built in options for Saitek joysticks, a flight industry standard.

Overall, Elite has enough variety to keep both lovers of the space sim genre and newcomers entertained for hours on end.  It is easy to simply get lost in the beauty and vastness of this 1:1 scale model of our galaxy, and exploration alone will keep many occupied.  Some players may have issues with the open-ended nature of Elite: Dangerous, as the game drops the player in without much direction, albeit with an extensive tutorial if they choose to play it.  The various jobs and activities are both enjoyable and add depth, and the ability to look freely around the cockpit makes Elite feel even more real.  With future updates to include the ability to walk around ships and star ports, as well ships that require a multi-person crew, Elite: Dangerous is definitely worth checking out.

Throwback Thursday: The Legend of Zelda – Majora’s Mask 3D Review

In 1998, Nintendo redefined the action/adventure genre when they released the first 3D installment of the long running Legend of Zelda series, Ocarina of Time. The game was nearly flawless when it came out, although it hasn’t aged as gracefully as others, it remains one of the greatest – if not the greatest game of all time.

Two years later, Nintendo blew the competition away again when they released Majora’s Mask, one of the only direct sequels in the Zelda series. While retaining the awesome feel of Ocarina, Nintendo added a whole new dimension to the gameplay with the introduction of masks – each with its own specific attribute. This, coupled with the ability to transform into a Deku, Zora, or Goron, turned a game that used the same assets and engine as Ocarina into a completely new and exciting experience that would be loved by fans for years to come.

After the success of Ocarina of Time 3D, Nintendo began hinting at a Majora’s Mask HD remake, using some not-so-subtle clues in both Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and the newest installment of Super Smash Bros. Nintendo eventually came out and stated the obvious, that they were indeed making Majora’s Mask 3D for the 3DS. After months of anticipation, the game has finally arrived; and it is everything Zelda fans have hoped for.

While it is simply a remake of the original, Majora’s Mask 3D is not a “port” per say. The most obvious improvement is the graphics, which have undergone a major overhaul. Textures and models look gorgeous, and animations have been greatly smoothed over and improved. The moon has gone from silly-looking to terrifying, which really adds to the dread of impending doom that is the main theme. All of the characters look great, and are not nearly as “polygonal” as they were in the original N64 title.

Some of the cutscenes have also been improved. For example, the “business scrub” cutscene that would occur every time the player walked by his deku flower in Clocktown has been shortened, which is a welcome relief to all those who would accidentally walk to close while strolling through South Clocktown.

Aside from the graphics, certain gameplay tweaks have made Majora’s Mask so much more streamlined. There are now four item slots as well as a separate slot for the ocarina. Anyone who has played the original will remember the monotony of constantly switching items out of the three allotted slots in that. The addition of motion-controlled aiming is another great improvement over the original, where it could be almost impossible sometimes to line up that perfect shot. The Bomber’s Notebook  has also been greatly improved. The player can now set alarms for when certain events are to occur. The Song of Double Time has also been improved, allowing the player to select the exact hour they want to warp to, unlike in Majora’s Mask 64, where it went in 12-hour increments.

There are a few things that some veteran players, however, may not like. One is the difficulty, which has been lowered a little bit from the original. Majora’s Mask 64 was notorious for its difficulty. Nintendo have altered that slightly, making the boss fights easier and adding some extra in-game hints. Several side quests have also been moved around, which may throw off veterans of the N64 version.

One of the biggest pet peeves is Zora Link’s swimming, which has been nerfed. In Majora’s Mask 64, you were able to swim fast kind of like a dolphin, and if you hit the “shield” button, a blue aura would appear around you that allowed you to damage enemies in the water. Now however, you can only “dolphin swim” when doing the blue aura attack. The basic swim action is now not nearly as fast as it used to be. Zora Link simply meanders through the water a bit faster than he would as regular Link.

This is a disappointment, as one of our favorite things to do in Majora’s Mask 64 was swim around the ocean at high speeds and see how high we could jump out. Now you can only do this as long as your magic meter lasts – which isn’t very long as the shield ability takes a lot to use.

Aside from these minor setbacks, Majora’s Mask 3D is still a great title. Nintendo have really gone above and beyond to improve what they could. It seems that they have listened to a lot of the player’s complaints over the years, and have tried their best to fix those issues. With all of these HD Zelda games coming out, we are excited to see what Nintendo has cooked up for the next new installment in the series, as well any more remakes they have planned. As for Majora’s Mask 3D, it is a definite buy for both veteran players and new fans of the series alike.

Warframe (PC) Review

Warframe is a cooperative free-to-play third person shooter/RPG with the feel of an old-school dungeon crawler.

The game takes place in the far future where the Solar System is overrun with several different races vying for power. You play as a Tenno, essentially the last remnants of humanity that use different armors (aptly named warframes) to do battle with the warlike Grineer – the technologically advanced Corpus, and the biological Infestation. After being awakened by a woman known as Lotus from a cryogenic sleep, you find yourself struggling to regain your lost power while trying to survive the war-torn solar system.

The main objective of Warframe is to get loot (a lot of it) and level it up. Missions are designed with maximum re-playability in mind, with no two levels being exactly the same. Warframe uses a procedure generated level design based on various tile sets, much like the dungeons of Diablo or Path of Exile. This is good because you will be playing the same levels a lot.  Certain rare resources are best acquired by fighting specific bosses, leading to many replays of specific boss battles in order to farm said resources. While it is possible to buy new weapons, Warframes, keys and other items for real money, it’s not required. Pretty much everything in the game can be unlocked by grinding, save for cosmetic upgrades and more inventory slots.

Coop multiplayer is really where the fun is at in Warframe. Up to four players can fight together in a variety of different mission types from straight-up exterminations to spy missions that require some twitch-based puzzle skills. Players can also form clans and build “dojos”, which are essentially giant space stations for clan members to meet. In the dojo, clan members can duel, trade items, research various items and weapons, or just hang out. Other than dueling, players can also enter PVP areas and fight in teams against other clans.

Movement in Warframe is perhaps one of the best aspects of the game. Your Tenno can run, jump, climb up walls, slide, and perform various other ninja maneuvers. The wall running and jumping isn’t just for show, as many levels require some platforming to advance. The combat is also extremely fluid; switching from ranged to melee is very streamlined, and there are many different weapons to choose from. Each weapon (as well as your warframe) can be leveled up and modded to make them more powerful. Mods can also be combined in different ways to make weapons even more devastating than normal.

In addition to its gameplay, Warframe has a rich lore and aesthetic that is unlike any other game out today. The concept of space-traveling ninjas in the far future is a very odd combination, but it works great. As you progress through the game, you learn more of the back story of each warframe, but also of each enemy type you encounter. The fact that it takes place in our own solar system (albeit well after humanity has largely gone extinct) makes for a new take on the whole post-apocalyptic/scifi genre. This isn’t a world where humanity is barely getting by in a barren wasteland. The Tenno are more of a shadow organization, barely a blip on the radar in this future where aliens rule the solar system, fighting each other for power. You are not here to “reclaim Earth” or help restart the human race in any way, but merely to survive in the chaos our solar system has fallen into.

While there are many great aspects of Warframe, it does have a few downfalls. It is still being actively developed, and so there are some crazy (often hilarious) glitches that happen occasionally. It is also extremely grindy. You can spend hours trying to get one resource without finding any. Having said that, developer Digital Extremes have really gone above and beyond to improve the game from what it once was, adding new maps, enemies, events, and greatly improving the user interface. While not perfect, it is certainly much more polished than it was a year ago, and new content (free content that is) is constantly being implemented.

Overall, while not the greatest game out today, Warframe is certainly very fun. It can get a bit tedious after a while, but if you can find some friends to play with, that definitely helps cut down the boredom caused by grinding for resources. If you are looking to play a game similar to Destiny but only have a PC, than look no further than Warframe. In many ways, Warframe does right the things that Destiny failed on, and while it may not be quite as vast as Destiny, Warframe certainly offers hours of enjoyment to any RPG/dungeon crawler fan.

Dying Light (PC) Review

Developer Techland, (the same company that brought us 2011’s Dead Island) has presented us with a new survival horror game for the PC titled Dying Light.

While retaining much of the RPG elements of Dead Island, Techland manages to refine and expand upon the loot/skill based system of their previous franchise, making for a much more enjoyable open-world experience.

Perhaps the biggest new feature is the new parkour system.  Unlike Dead Island, where movement was fairly restricted, Dying Light gives the player the ability to go essentially anywhere they can see.  What sets the climbing and free running elements apart from similar games like Assassin’s Creed is its natural flow.  One of the biggest issues with Assassin’s Creed’s free running/climbing mechanic is the level design.  While it was a fairly great system, buildings clearly have things that you are supposed to climb on, be it weird wooden planks sticking out in nonsensical locations or the random bricks that just happen to be out of place in a perfect climbing line.  Dying Light’s level design is much more subtle, making the parkour elements of the game feel a lot more natural and realistic.

The world of Dying Light is massive.  Dozens of side quests and little distractions will keep any fan of games like Skyrim or Fallout occupied for hours.  Not only is this world huge, it is also pretty.  From the picturesque scenes of the resort town to the grittiness of the slums, Techland definitely spared no expense on creating the world of Dying Light.

One of the best features of Dying Light is the day/night cycle.  During the day, zombies and the various other infected – while tough, will eventually become more of a nuisance than a threat.  It isn’t until the sun goes down that the game gets really difficult, with the standard zombies getting a buff and the appearance of the vampire-like Volatiles( monstrous creatures that can easily chase you down and murder you, even across rooftops).  Going out at night, however, does have its benefits.  The player will receive a boost in all experience earned, as well as a chance to score some loot drops without having to deal with the dangerous uninfected enemies.

Overall, Dying Light is a breath of fresh air in the zombie survival genre.  From the in-depth crafting and loot system to the amazing free running/parkour, Dying Light has something for fans of both the RPG and action-adventure/platforming genres. Techland took the extra time to release Dying Light and it shows.  The amount of polishing put into the game is rare for most AAA releases these days, making Dying Light the proverbial god among insects in the current market.