Category Archives: Video Game Reviews

The Swapper Review

As I walked up to the final chapter of The Swapper, I was confronted with questions that applied directly to the core of our existence, and had me thinking about subjects that few games, if any, have ever inspired me to ponder upon. It takes a special type of game to do that and that’s why I loved playing it so much.

You play as a nameless character in outer space who’s ship malfunctions causing him to land on an abandoned station in an unspecified area of space. At first the space station seems uninhabited, but soon you meet the last survivor of the space station who is keen on getting off it. Her strange personality and odd instructions helps provide mystery to the story, and adds to the already ominous tone that exists in the game from the moment it begins. The setting plays a huge part in the games narrative, as it spurs intrigue from the get go. When I first started the game, I already had questions about what happened to the station, or why it was there in the first place, and this curiosity never subsides because they do a great job of adding enough elements to the story to keep you guessing,  but not too much to bog the game down. The minimalist soundtrack also accentuates the atmosphere of the game very well, fitting perfectly within it. Ultimately, what I was most impressed with was the story itself, especially near the end, and like I said before some very profound questions about life and our existence are asked that no other game I have played has even scratched the surface on.

The gamplay of  The Swapper is very well executed, taking simple concepts and finding extreme depth within making for some incredibly hard puzzles that took me a while to figure out. It speaks to the creativity and effort that the developer put into this game and it’s level designs. The kicker of the gameplay is a device called, you guessed it, ‘the Swapper’, it’s a device that can manifest up to four clones that mimic your movements, and is called the Swapper because you can “swap” consciousness with any of  the clones you create. What’s brilliant about this device is that it actually serves a purpose in the whole scope of the story, it isn’t there just so you can get from point A to point B, instead it is an integral part of the narrative and is the reason the developer was able to ask the thoughtful questions I mentioned earlier. The puzzles themselves consist of retrieving orbs to unlock new areas, and like any good platformer as you go on there are more components added to the gameplay that make it harder, but these elements all fit well within the confines of the game, and are never overly complicated, but when put together makes for some truly challenging puzzles.

After finishing The Swapper, I get another sense that many developers are beginning to understand how to use video games as a great story-telling device, because even though this game had some really rewarding puzzles, they aren’t what I took away from this experience. What I did take away was how The Swapper tells an ambitious, intriguing, thought-provoking story that I have been thinking about since I finished it about a week ago. That being said, I would recommend to almost anyone, with the only drawbacks being that the difficulty sometimes took away from my experience as well as it being a bit short, but if you don’t mind those two things I would definitely give The Swapper a shot, who knows it might even change your life.

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The Last Of Us Review

I have never played a game in one sitting, but The Last of Us pulled me in and never let go from the start of my 16 hour journey with this phenomenal game. I will be up front and say that I strongly believe that The Last of Us is the best game I have ever played, and easily takes my top slot for my favorite game ever played. The question is how did it do that with such ease?

You play as Joel, a hard-edged southern man who sees the world torn apart by a disease called Cordyceps Unilateralis, a mushroom-like fungus that takes over a person’s brain causing them to lose control of their body and mind. At his side is Ellie, a charismatic fourteen year old girl who’s personalty is almost exactly opposite of Joel’s. Ellie was born into the infected world, it’s all she knows. Joel, someone who knows of both worlds and Ellie who only knows the infected one creates a wonderful dynamic for intriguing dialogue throughout the journey. At one point in the game she mentions how she had never been in nature before and comments on how beautiful it is. It’s these moments where The Last of Us shine because with the use of Ellie, Naughty Dog is able to cleverly ask thought provoking questions that apply directly to the world we live in. It also helps that Ellie isn’t a mindless companion who follows you around on the trek, she comments on almost everything you come across in the world, and in combat isn’t a burden to have around. It doesn’t feel like she holds you back at all, and she will even help you out by pointing an enemy’s location or throwing an object at one to stun them. Joel, Ellie, and their story gives the game an amazing amount of realism like no other game I have ever played.

The narrative that is the backbone of The Last of Us and most of all it is one about a journey; a journey about a man and a girl unwillingly forced upon each other and how they came to care for one another in a terrible world full of despair. It is wonderfully told and every element of the game add to the immersion and depth to it. At the heart of the story are its characters, they are the stars of this game, each character has a believable personality that makes them special to the game. Even the many opponents you face are extremely believable as they struggle and try to talk you out of killing them when you have them in a stranglehold, and scratch and claw at you when you decide to end their life. They will back down if you have a hostage, or run away if you have a better weapon than they do. Overall the AI is smart and authentic adding to the immersion, and it’s all tied together with superb voice acting and visuals from beginning to end, I honestly don’t know how they made a game look so good on a current-gen system. All of these factors help to make a compelling narrative that begs many questions along the way pertaining to what we take for granted, how we view and handle our relationships, and about life in general.

The gameplay is based off combat, stealth, and crafting. I thoroughly enjoy this aspect of the game as, like every other part of the game, also adds to the immersion of the narrative and the world. Guns are a big part of combat, but ammo is scarce encouraging you to take a stealthy approach, and it is entirely possible to go through some stages without killing anyone. Personally, my favorite thing to do was use the bow and arrow, getting one-shot-kills against unsuspecting foes. There are two types of enemies, humans and the infected, each foe has different strategies for how you combat them. The infected are harder because there are different types of them that you will encounter, and having these different types in the same area is the hardest part of the whole game. There are ones that have a heightened sense of hearing, but can’t see you, or others that can see you, but don’t hear as well, and their unpredictable walking patterns make it really hard to get past them. Although, both the human and infected enemies are both difficult to face playing on the normal difficulty. The gameplay adds to the immersion with realistic fighting and stealth animations to go along great sound design all around. There is also wonderful crafting system to make offensive items and health packs on the fly while in the combat. The game never pauses while crafting adding even more authenticity to the experience. You can also level up your abilities and the weapons you wield, giving a refreshing amount of RPG elements that fit well within the game. It reminds me of titles like Bioshock or Dishonored, but on a smaller scale, where you have linear objectives, but different ways to go about getting there. The gameplay is challenging but never cheap, if I died I always felt it was because of my own mistake and not the game ripping me off. I spent almost no time yelling at my TV during this game, which was nice. The gameplay is challenging, engaging, but most of all fun, and from the realistic sounds of the guns, to the subtle animations that take place while stealthily moving around the environments the game is a joy to play and adds to the immersion of the game.

Although the single player isn’t the only mode in this game, there is also a multiplayer that fits well within the confines of the game. Set in the single player world, you join one of two factions fighting for territory and supplies trying to survive. It acts similar to any other multiplayer shooter where you level up to get better weapons and gear, but doesn’t feel as favorable to high level players since they have a point system that restricts you from adding too many highly upgraded things into your loadout; making the beginning levels less of a grind. All the weapons from the campaign are here, plus a few extras. The crafting system is also present which also makes it stand apart. While the multiplayer is, by no means, the focus of the game it is a good change of pace from other multiplayer shooters I have played before, and adds rather than subtracts from the games overall experience.

The Last of Us is a game that does almost everything right, and I can’t imagine them doing anything substantially different that would have made it a better experience. I’ve never played a game that used every element of itself to build upon one another making each one better because the other exists, and a lot of this is thanks to the attention to detail Naughty Dog took in approaching this game. It is the most immersive experience I have ever had, and delivers a story that not only is my favorite in a video game, but one of my favorites in all the movies I’ve watched and books I’ve read throughout my life. It is a masterpiece to say the least, and one that will define a console generation.

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State of Decay Review

I went into the last mission with my favorite character, Joe, I picked out all the items I felt I needed and set off for my final battle in State of Decay. I was doing very well until right near the end of the mission I fell short of my goals to finish the game, as my beloved Joe was being violently torn apart by a zombie, whom I spent most of the game leveling up, outfitting, and interacting with would no longer exist because of the dreaded but brilliant permadeath mechanic of the game. All that work with Joe squandered right near the end of my journey in State of Decay. As I recalled this violent and sad event I couldn’t help but realize that this event was a great analogy for how I felt about State of Decay as a whole. When I did end up finishing the game just like my character Joe, SoD showed so much promise, but fell short of fleshing out its own ambitions.

State of Decay is a audaciously ambitious game from Undead Studios, and is priced at a mere $20 for a game that at times acts like one worth a $60 price tag. It is very similar to the Arma III mod DayZ set in a post-apocalyptic, zombie infested region, which resembles Western America. The region contains four or five small towns, but most of the game is spent in two of them. It’s a surprisingly big world, but a lot of the space has no real use aside from housing resources and zombies, which both can be found more frequently and in more volume in the cities. This is frustrating because it would be nice to explore this vast world, but since there is no incentive, other than mundane side quests, to venture out in it there really is no point in making it so big, following the theme introduced in the previous paragraph.

Although one of the things SoD does well is managing resources and gaining experience with your characters. I say characters because the permadeath, stamina, and health mechanics make it a necessity to have multiple characters that are experienced in dealing with the outer world, its also fun and effective way to play. The health and stamina mechanics work really well because the longer you are outside the more these traits deplete, and the only way to heal your wounds and recover from fatigue is to rest at base. I ended up switching between three different people because I found that to be most efficient. The experience system also works well because your character levels up as you use certain skills, for instance if I decided to focus on shooting with one character, he/she would level up their shooting ability allowing for better skills in that category, and if I kept shooting I could eventually add a new passive or active ability to that skill, making for more variety. There are also other RPG elements when it comes to your home base, where you can add modules to your base to increase certain traits, like a workout facility to increase your group’s stamina. This was one of the highlights of the game for me, because I didn’t expect so many RPG elements to be in this game, and the fact that it had a good amount of depth to go with it was nice to see. These RPG elements add a sense of realism to the game because resource, people, and base management are all believable things that would need to be dealt with after a zombie outbreak. Resource management is where I found most of my time spent in the game, whether it be scavenging for new weapons, ammo, health supplies, or materials for my base, there is a lot of time spent in menus deciding whether to keep that your last few shotgun shells or swap it for that shiny new pistol.

In terms of gameplay your character can wield a variety of weapons from grenade launchers to commemorative hockey sticks. Each melee weapon will break after a certain point, and the amount of use before it breaks depends on the quality of the weapon. I never found that guns could break, but I didn’t mind as it makes sense. The weapons are central to gameplay, because they determine how you go about fighting zombies. Guns are more lethal, but make more noise, melee weapons make less noise, but aren’t as lethal, so there is somewhat of a strategy in how you want to fight them. These choices all add to the game because the zombies are very dangerous in numbers, I found unless I was using one of my fully upgraded characters, at least three zombies would make me want to GTFO real quick. The melee combat is pretty basic, a lot of time is spent mashing X, which at first glance isn’t that bad, but with a short amount of different animations the combat does feel a little bit stale after playing a long time, going along with the theme from the first paragraph. It’s a bit hard to aim, but when I had better guns that it was easier to get one-shot-kills, so maybe the difficulty for entry level guns was made on purpose. The only other complaint about shooting is that it seems the game favors melee weapons, because finding ammo for you guns is a bit hard, I remember one instance, where literally every gun I had was out of ammo, but I suppose that would be an issue found in a zombie apocalypse so it’s a believable problem. Driving is also a big component of gameplay, as it is the best way to get around, and in some ways breaks the game, because you can destroy large quantities of zombies very easily. Although, the driving itself isn’t all that great, I eventually got used to it and enjoyed how different cars acted in different ways.

My biggest problem with the game lies with the story and its characters. There are only about five to ten characters that really move the plot along. All the rest, for the most part, have the ability to be playable by you, as long as they join your base. There are other survivors that live in various locations, who won’t join you, which was perfectly fine, but my problem with all the characters is their lack of substance. Aside from the three characters I played a lot with, I did not feel a connection to any of the other characters. And the only reason I felt fear of losing the three characters I had played in the game was because they had way better stats than anyone else in my base, I found almost no emotional attachment to my characters, which was a big dissapointment. The rest of the characters stay home to rest, protect the base, or go on fetch missions for resources. The fetch missions aren’t a bad idea, but they end up being a huge annoyance, as you’ll have endless, literally infinite, missions pop up where you need to help your allies, whether it be to provide an escort home or defeat a special type of zombie. These reminded me a lot of how Red Dead Redemption had people run out at you while you were traveling asking for help, except for the fact that in SoD you just get told that someone’s in trouble, and would have to go bail them out. I feel the RDR mechanic worked much better as it took less moving from A to B, and more actually playing the fun parts of the game, and the fact that they’d actually run out at you made you feel like the game was alive, in SoD it just feels like another pointless thing you need to do and ended up taking away from my experience rather than strengthening it. Don’t get me wrong these could have worked, but since none of these characters had any real substance both emotionally and functionally, there is really no reason to have them especially in the large quantity they pop up. By the end I probably spent more time on these missions than actually moving the plot along, which might have been my own fault. The story has a similar downfall, where it’s pretty interesting, but lacks the substance to make it extraordinary. There were also multiple times where I thought a cool story arc could take place, but nothing really came of it, and the ending was so lackluster that it made me sad to see the potential of this game’s story get squandered. Again, relaying back to the theme from the initial paragraph.

On a side note, I want to forewarn you that there are a lot of small bugs in the game, whether it be frame rate popping or zombies running through doors, there are a healthy amount of glitches and bugs. I only experience two things that really made a difference in my game, but I didn’t mind so much because of the price point.

Overall, I did enjoy this game, and loved the ambition that the developers showed in making it. If nothing else this game made me wonder what they’d be able to do if they were to embark on a bigger project, which makes me glad I supported them. I have also heard rumors that if SoD does well, they will be making a similar game into an MMO, which I think could solve some of the substance issues I referred to earlier. Like I’ve said before this game for the most part does act like a $40-60 game and that’s maybe why I was so critical of it at times, but the game does so much right that much of it’s missteps can be forgiven, and I would definitely recommend this game if you have $20 to spare and like zombie and RPG games.

Thank you for reading and hope it was helpful!

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Guacamelee! Review

Although I do love video games and enjoy playing them, platformers are usually not my calling. In fact, the pure platformer I can remember playing was Limbo, which I bought the day it came out and mostly because the atmosphere was so rich I felt I could just scoop it up and eat it all day and night, which I did, beat it in a day… Anyway, Guacamelee! is a game from Drinkbox Studios and follows the story of a large Mexican man named Juan. The Mexican theme of this game is central to the game, because not only do they use an awesome art style that replicate a Mexican feel, but one of the coolest mechanics in the game, which allows you to switch from one dimension to the next, is a part of ancient Mexican lore involving the holiday Day of the Dead. The music, which is fantastic by the way, also follows the Mexican theme by invigorating classic Mexican mariachi with modern music styles that feels right at home in this game. An added bonus is when you change dimensions the music doesn’t change songs, but merely changes the style of the song played, it’s this and other little things that set Guacamelee! apart, and show the level of detail the developers put into this game. There are many other little details that put big ole’ fat grin on my face by adding various tributes to other games like Castle Crashers, “Los Casa Crashers”, and Journey.

The general gameplay involves platforming as well as fighting and does a good job of combining these two to make an awesome experience. It’s as if Super Smash Bros. decided to make sweet sweet love to a (insert a friggin amazing platforming game here) and came out with this gameplay. I say this because the fighting is a true delight, and the combination of having to really think about how you defeat the various flying, rolling, and attacking enemies, and having a vas assortment of abilities to defeat them breathes life into the gameplay. There were numerous times where I had to take time and figure out what the hell I was supposed to do to defeat the enemy, which is a good thing, I like to think! Although, by the end I found myself being complacent because of the wide array of abilities that I could use and would abuse only one of the abilities that seemed more OP than the others.

WhatI really liked was that the fighting abilities were also vital part to platforming as well, and probably the two hardest portions of the game only involve platforming and these sections took me hours to beat. Although, I wouldn’t let the extra time stop you from trying because the satisfaction of beating these sections makes you really accomplished something, as you sit playing a video game…alone…with only mountains of junk food surrounding you to keep you company…

As for the progression of the game you follow the story of Juan trying to defeat Calacta, an evil skeleton from the undead world, and in each new section of the story rewards a new ability. What’s great is that there are no frivolous abilities, you need every one of them and most of them get used about the same amount whether you using them for platforming or fighting or fighting while platforming. As for the story, it’s not very complicated, you’re always trying to defeat Calacta, and plays out very similarly to a Mario story with Bowser, which could be a good or bad thing, I personally enjoyed it. There also isn’t that much frivolous content, aside from the main story there was a few side quests and collectables, but both of these were fun and challenging to do, because the gameplay and humorous aspect of the game makes them very fun. The humor in itself was a treat because it served as a healthy reminder, for me, that “Hey, you’re playing a game this should be fun!” Whether it’s some of the funny characters, or many play on words in the game, it’s nice to have a catharsis of laughter after some of the very challenging, sometimes frustrating, parts of the game.

As you can see I don’t have much bad to say about this game, and the only issues I had while playing was that it did become frustrating at times for me, and that the replay value might be a little lacking, but they do provide a “new game plus” mode for when you beat the game the first time (I also hear new DLC is coming soon). Other than that, I found this game truly awesome. From the fun gameplay and platforming to the humor infused in the game, Guacamelee! succeeds in giving an experience that can be fun for both casual and hardcore gamers. I recommend this game as a must play for anyone that likes platformers, and an awesome game to introduce the genre for someone interested in trying it for the first time. If your interested in purchasing this, and supporting yet another awesome indie developer it’s $15 on the Playstation Network.

Thanks for reading and hope it was helpful!

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