Category: Game Review

November 30, 2015 George Hyde

“Fallout 4” is more or less like Bethesda’s “Fallout” and “Elder Scrolls” games before it. Yes, there’s a new story here, a wide-open wasteland full of sidequests and activities there, and a few tweaks and mechanics to make the whole “Fallout” experience feel more streamlined for the modern gaming era.

If you loved Bethesda’s work on “Fallout” or “The Elder Scrolls,” you’ll like “Fallout 4.” I can’t stop you. Even I like it quite a lot. In a standout year like this, however, I worry that Bethesda’s ongoing mistakes are becoming more and more unforgivable.

The role-playing genre has changed irreversibly since Bethesda’s last RPG venture, “Skyrim,” came out. “Dark Souls” changed the way players interact with each other in RPGs, and games like “Shadow of Mordor” have shown game enthusiasts a new way to make boss and enemy design engaging. Even this year, games like “The Witcher 3” and “Undertale” have become new benchmarks of the genre from which other RPGs can and should be judged from now on. In addition, when it comes to open world design, Hideo Kojima nailed that on the head two months ago with “Metal Gear Solid V.”

Had “Fallout 4” come out any other year before this one, I have a feeling I would have liked it a lot more. Perhaps I’m just spoiled. “Fallout 4” is very good, but it isn’t great. The story is okay, and it has some standout moments. There are a couple characters that are really enjoyable, but most of them are pretty bland. There are more than a few sidequests that really grabbed me, but they were overwhelmed by the glut of “go here, kill this certain guy, and come back” quests that seemed to be everywhere.

The “S.P.E.C.I.A.L.” and perk systems from previous “Fallout” games have both been radically overhauled in several good ways. The clunky karma system from previous games is gone, and thank heavens for that. The new town-building mechanics did an unexpectedly good job of drawing me in, making me invested in the characters and the economy of the Commonwealth.

It really feels like Bethesda took many cues from its players’ mods, and that’s a very good thing. It shows that they’re willing to listen and cater to their fans.

However, it’s inexcusable to release a modern game in this buggy of a state. The excuse of “It’s Bethesda, their games are always buggy” is starting to get thin, especially when games like “The Witcher 3” or “Metal Gear Solid V” release with far less glitches.

If you love “Fallout” and want more of it, go ahead and get it. I won’t stop you. I have no doubt that this is going to be one of the top sellers of the year. I’m concerned, however, that if Bethesda doesn’t really innovate with their series in a way that’s noticeable, then other games will leave it in the dust. In my opinion, games like “The Witcher 3” already have left it in the dust. As it is now, “Fallout 4” is merely pretty good. It will have to be a lot better than that when “Fallout 5” eventually rolls around.

November 29, 2015 George Hyde

At moments, “Star Wars Battlefront” feels like the quintessential “Star Wars” video game. For a “Star Wars” fan, this game is the pinnacle of visual and audible design in games. It’s definitely the prettiest game that this generation of consoles has seen thus far, with an insane attention to detail in every map, weapon, player, and starfighter. When the player joins their fellow Stormtroopers in clearing out a Rebel base, with TIE Fighters flying overhead and John Williams’ “Imperial March” triumphantly playing in the background, it’s hard not to feel giddy.

Unfortunately for “Battlefront,” that giddiness is fleeting. For as much as the developers at DICE have shown their love for the source material, the underlying game isn’t very deep. There also isn’t much content here. Of the twelve maps and nine modes, only a very few of them are worth playing. “Battlefront’s” sheen starts to wear off after a few hours, and it suffers without interesting gameplay to hold it up afterward.

For a great example of how “Battlefront” is lacking, look no further than the offline, single-player offerings. Whereas previous “Battlefront” games had campaigns based on “Star Wars” history, the new “Battlefront” only offers a few survival maps that can be played with a buddy. Almost the entire game is focused on playing with other human beings. There’s not much that this game has to offer for players going alone.

The game itself is good, but not great. While “Battlefront” wants to be a jack of all trades, it ends up being a master of none. Playing as a soldier on the ground is fun, but it lacks the depth of movement that games like “Titanfall” or the newer “Call of Duty’s” bring to the table. X-Wings and TIE Fighters are pretty fun to fly, but it’s not nearly as deep as something like “TIE Fighter” or “Rogue Squadron.” The rare moments where the player gets to play as famous characters like Luke or Han Solo are fun, but they lack the impact that the heroes of “Battlefront II” had.

This, in addition to EA’s grand plans for sequels and paid downloadable content, leads me to believe that “Battlefront” is not going to last long. That’s a shame. It’s clear that a lot of love and care went into making it. Without the free support that games like “Splatoon” or “Team Fortress 2” still get, “Battlefront” is going to slowly wither. With new sequels on the way, though, I guess that doesn’t matter.

Title: “Star Wars Battlefront”

Developer: DICE

Platform: PS4, XBO, PC (Reviewed)

Genre: Multiplayer shooter

Release Date: November 17, 2015

Rating: 3

November 8, 2015 George Hyde

Amidst the hype of large shooters and daunting open worlds this October, it’s sometimes important to look at the games that keep it simple and a bit mindless.

“Viscera Cleanup Detail” takes a job that many consider boring — janitorial work — and somehow makes it magical. It’s mop work without the disgusting smells of reality. There’s something engaging about methodically cleaning a small area, and I’m not quite sure I can put my finger on why.

The plot, if it can be called that, is bare-bones. You are the janitor on a spaceship assigned to clean up different extremely violent scenarios, from science experiments gone wrong to attacks from disgusting aliens right out of H.R. Giger’s portfolio.

The player doesn’t see any of this action. They only clean up the mess. Many of the environments have their own small stories to tell from the messes left behind. They’re not all very dramatic or deep stories, but they still lend “Viscera” a darkly humorous style.

Cleaning itself doesn’t seem that fun at first. It’s about as fun as cleaning up pools of blood in real life is. Your mop gets filthy very quickly, and cleaning your mop dirties up one of your buckets of water. You can have as many water buckets as you want, but each bucket can only clean your mop so many times before the water becomes a reddish brown muck.

Speaking of which, the physics engine is a joke, seemingly coming right out of “Goat Simulator.” It takes great care not to accidentally knock over one of the many dirty buckets you’ll inevitably accumulate.

This doesn’t sound like much fun, so how is it so enjoyable? To be honest, it’s actually pretty funny to learn the game for the first time. The first time I learned I left bloody footprints everywhere that made me laugh more than curse the game. Learning the game takes trial and error, but it’s such hilarious trial and error that it’s hard to care.

Once the player actually learns the game, it’s a very meditative experience. Progress is always clear and steady. Seeing every room of the map go from a bloody mess to spick-and-span is immensely satisfying.

There’s also multiplayer, if you want help cleaning the various levels. If cleaning a room alone is satisfying, you can bet that doing it with a friend is even more so. The experience gets a little chaotic when more than two people enter the mix, but for a fun and goofy time, “Viscera” multiplayer works.

What you get out of “Viscera Cleanup Detail” really depends on what you put in. If you’re willing to put in the effort to clean a massive virtual space, it’s very satisfying. If you’re just looking for a silly physics nightmare, it also works as that. If you have a few buddies who want to play something eccentric, it’ll do the trick. Of all things, it’s astounding that it’s the janitorial simulator that manages to offer that much versatility.

October 30, 2015 George Hyde

“Amnesia: The Dark Descent” was really, really friggin’ scary. It wasn’t the only game to trigger the indie horror game phenomenon, but with its Lovecraftian horror and subtle scares, it certainly helped. As such, it was only a matter of time until Frictional Games, the developers of “Amnesia,” would come out with a spiritual sequel…

October 23, 2015 George Hyde

Most Japanese-style role-playing games have a clear group of protagonists fighting a group of antagonists. The heroes of “Final Fantasy VII” are a clear resistance group fighting against an obviously tyrannical corporation. “Mother” sees a group of youngsters fight an evil and strange alien menace. Occasionally the odd game like “Shin Megami Tensei” might mess…

July 25, 2015 George Hyde

Westerns aren’t a genre that you see often in video games. Perhaps this is a sign of the times we live in; the Wild West just isn’t a popular setting anymore. Back in the first half of the 20th century, Westerns dominated the cinema and the literary world, but since the Space Age, they’ve fallen…

July 7, 2015 George Hyde

 

I like to think of myself as a pretty decent gaming critic. But with that said, with the many new releases that I cover (and the fact that I’m a busy college student), I often don’t have time to play what many consider to be hallmarks of the video gaming medium. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve played my fair share of classics. But there are too many missing to justify my status as a gaming aficionado, which makes me a bit sad.

Well, no more! Releases have started to dry up this summer, and I think it’s about time I get around to playing these gems. I’ve compiled ten games that many people consider classics, and I’ll try to finish one a week. There are still a lot of important games I’ve never played before, even when I don’t count these ten, but with this initiative, it’s a start.

#10: Conker’s Bad Fur Day

One of the most crass games ever made, “Conker” tops many “funniest games of all time” lists, and it features everything from a sarcastic, drunk squirrel to a literal singing turd. It was a departure from Nintendo’s more family-friendly policies, making it a landmark title for the publisher.

#9: Red Dead Redemption

Many consider “Red Dead Redemption” to be Rockstar’s magnum opus, with a vast breathing world filled with more Western tropes than you can shake a buffalo chip at. In addition, protagonist John Marston is also considered by many to be one of gaming’s most interesting characters.

#8: Kirby Super Star

The only other “Kirby” game I’ve played is “Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards,” which I didn’t even finish. As a something of a “Kirby” newcomer, “Super Star” seems as good a place to start as any, featuring eight adventures/games with lots of “Kirby” saccharine goodness.

#7: Dishonored

This one has actually been reviewed by a previous TNL writer, but as a fan of games like “Thief” and “Deus Ex,” I’m shocked that I haven’t really touched it. With interesting new mechanics that bring new meaning to the stealth genre, it should be a stabby-good time.

#6: Banjo-Kazooie

“Conker” may be considered one of developer Rare’s finest game, but “Banjo-Kazooie” is often heralded as the king of the “collect-a-thon platformer” genre. With the spiritual successor “Yooka-Laylee” becoming a Kickstarter success story, “Banjo” has become a must-play.

#5: Resident Evil 4

This is considered one of the most important games of all time, introducing the world to third-person shooting in an intuitive new way. This, combined with the horrific atmosphere, scary enemies, and goofy story, should make it a no-brainer for me to play. Even if I haven’t. Yet.

#4: Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

Now that we’re on Rare’s third game for this list, I have to wonder if I haven’t played enough of their games yet. However, I am a huge fan of the first “Donkey Kong Country,” and if what I hear is true, this should be an even greater experience. According to many, this is one of the best platformers ever made.

#3: Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

But if “Diddy’s Kong Quest” is considered one of the best platformers, “Yoshi’s Island” is considered the best. And again, I’m already a fan of the original “Super Mario World,” which is timeless platforming bliss. And “Yoshi’s Island” looks to be more of that, and with a unique crayon-like art-style to boot.

#2: Silent Hill 2

I’m kicking myself over this one in particular. I’m a huge believer in video gaming’s storytelling potential, and many claim that “Silent Hill 2” tells one of the best stories in gaming history. And yet, I’ve never experienced it, in part because horror games aren’t really my thing. But hey, it’s worth a shot.

#1: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

This is the real shocker, though. I’ve been a huge fan of Star Wars for as long as I remember, and I’m a big BioWare fan as well. And yet, I’ve never played “Knights of the Old Republic,” which is acclaimed as one of BioWare’s best games, and one of the best “Star Wars” games ever made. So I owe it to myself to finally play it.

Every week, I’ll be reviewing one of these games, starting with “Conker” next week. If you have these games and want to follow along, feel free! Or better yet, if you have a backlog of old games that you’ve never played before, now is the best time to give them a go.

June 25, 2015 George Hyde

Early in 2014, developer Machine Games made their debut with the shockingly brilliant “Wolfenstein: The New Order,” a shooter that wasn’t afraid to stray from the roots of its franchise, or tell a great story, or depict an interesting Nazi-dominated alternate universe. A year later, Machine Games has returned to their world of Nazis and…

June 9, 2015 George Hyde

“Splatoon” is a fantastic multiplayer shooter. One of the best in ages. Were it not for a few glaring issues, it would be up there with “Fistful of Frags” and “Titanfall” as one of the most interesting multiplayer games of the last few years. And it’s also family friendly, and parents with gamer kids know…

May 26, 2015 George Hyde

Let’s cut straight to the chase: does “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt” live up to the incredible hype that’s been surrounding it for years? The short answer is an absolute yes. The long answer is below. In 2007, obscure Polish game developer CD Projekt Red released “The Witcher,” an RPG based on a series of…

April 21, 2015 George Hyde

Within the last four years, NetherRealm Studios has become one of the most prolific fighting game developers in the industry. In 2011, they rebooted the “Mortal Kombat” franchise in a way that kept it campy, gory and accessible, while still adding enough nuance for competitive players to show their stuff. The impressive DC Comics-based “Injustice:…

April 14, 2015 George Hyde

It seems as if the computer role-play game, or cRPG, genre is having a renaissance. Games like “Wasteland 2” and “Divinity: Original Sin” were released last year to critical acclaim and very high sales, and more cRPGs like “Torment: Tides of Numenera” are on the way. However, Obsidian appears to have trumped them all with…

April 7, 2015 George Hyde

Upon its 2010 release, “Xenoblade Chronicles” subverted all expectations for the Japanese role-play game, or JRPG, genre. It was almost an anti-JRPG, adapting to design trends from Western RPGs across the coast like “Fallout” or “The Elder Scrolls.” It also featured a story that, on the surface, was standard JRPG fare, but on the inside…

April 1, 2015 George Hyde

As most people know, LucasArts was a legendary video game developer before their sights turned primarily to the “Star Wars” license. They went under when Disney acquired LucasFilm, but thanks to the great folks at GOG.com, their old back catalog is available for purchase and download. And one of their most famous games, “Zak McKracken…

March 24, 2015 George Hyde

“Hotline Miami” released in 2012 and became the most violent video game ever made. In essence, it was a drug-fueled psychopathic adventure wherein the goal was to kill as many Russian mafia members as gloriously and violently as possible. It was more than a mindless murder spree, though — there was a subtext of madness,…

March 19, 2015 George Hyde

Link is traveling through the Lost Woods until a mysterious Skull Kid kidnaps his horse, Epona. After giving chase, Link meets with a terrible fate: He falls down a chasm into a mysterious land and is turned into a wooden Deku Scrub. He is tasked with finding a cursed mask all in the span in…

March 4, 2015 George Hyde

A deck building dungeon-crawling rogue-like with “Arkham Asylum” style combat and visual novel elements, with a narrator reading everything you do — that is the simplest way I can explain “Hand of Fate.” It sounds like an incomprehensible mish-mash of different ideas. But all of the elements actually mix and blend together quite nicely to…

February 26, 2015 George Hyde

In the Victorian age, London has fallen underground. While it still remains in some level of contact with the outside world, it is surrounded by a massive underground ocean known as the Unterzee. What adventures await in this vast, dark expanse? That’s up to players to discover in “Sunless Sea.” The game is a spin-off…

February 11, 2015 George Hyde

In 1998, “Grim Fandango” was released to critical acclaim and then soon forgotten. Despite the fact that it won several awards — even beating out other heavy hitters like “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” and “Half-Life” in some publications — it didn’t sell very well. In fact, “Grim Fandango’s” commercial failure can largely…

January 27, 2015 George Hyde

Something incredibly special will happen this week. Three of the best exploration-based games ever made, the titular “Metroid Prime Trilogy,” will be available in one downloadable package, for $10 on Nintendo’s eShop on Wii U. This download includes more than 80 hours of hauntingly beautiful and atmospheric gameplay, with some of the most fascinating storytelling…

January 20, 2015 George Hyde

To enjoy “Elite: Dangerous,” players really have to want to enjoy it. They need to spend the time mastering the controls, learning the procedures, learning how to fight, learning how to dock, learning where the “landing gear” button is — there’s a lot of work that goes into learning how to play it. However, those…

January 12, 2015 George Hyde

“Ultima.” “Baldur’s Gate.” “Might and Magic.” “Dragon Age.” All of these are role-playing classics, and they all owe their existence to one game: “Akalabeth: World of Doom.” Okay, perhaps that’s not fair. Even “Akalabeth” owes its existence to the tabletop RPGs of old. It started as a school project developed on an old Apple II…

December 8, 2014 George Hyde

Another year, another solid block of game releases. This year saw several disappointments like “Destiny” or “Watch Dogs,” but it also saw many pleasant surprises like “Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor” or “Wolfenstein: The New Order.” Of the many releases this year, however, five stand out for their quality and for what they represent. So let’s…

November 7, 2014 George Hyde

Boy, relapse can be painful sometimes. The games in Sid Meier’s “Civilization” series are dangerous for college students to play. Once a game is started, the hours just disappear without any trace. Its formula manages to be thought-provoking and infamously addictive, and the latest sci-fi themed entry, “Beyond Earth,” is no exception. However, it lacks…

October 29, 2014 Diego Barros-Barnes

By Diego Barros-Barnes and George Hyde gchyde@thenorthernlight.org In 2010, players were first introduced to the world of “Borderlands,” a strange mix of “Mad Max” with “Diablo” with a wickedly dark sense of humor. The world expanded and became bigger and better with “Borderlands 2,” but now players are faced with a somewhat stagnant new entry,…

October 6, 2014 George Hyde

Wasteland 2

Game: “Wasteland 2”

Developer: inXile Entertainment

Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux

Release Date: Sept. 19, 2014

Rating: 4/5

+ Plenty of RPG nostalgia
+ Combat is accessible and deep
– Quests are sometimes obtuse

Back in the stone age of 1988, a developer by the name of Brian Fargo and his fledgling team at Interplay developed a post-apocalyptic role-playing game by the name of “Wasteland.” While it’s incredibly primitive by today’s standards — the game’s “plot” was a pamphlet that was included with the disk — it was still a pioneer for the RPG genre, and it inspired further games to come, like “Fallout.”

Now, Brian Fargo seeks to make his return with “Wasteland 2,” the first official sequel to the 1988 classic. So is it worth the over-25-year wait?

Oh, yes. Yes, it is.
It is many years after the great nuclear war that devastated the Earth. Four player-controlled, customized party members are members of an organization known as the Desert Rangers. One of their own, named Ace, has been mysteriously killed off, and it’s up to the player to figure out why, and to finish what he started.

While there’s a lot of “Wasteland” DNA in “Wasteland 2,” it actually more closely resembles the first two “Fallout” titles, especially when it comes to combat. The combat, like “Fallout,” is very tactical and easy to understand, while still being deep.

It’s also unrelentingly brutal. “Wasteland 2” doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to difficulty, and players who don’t manage resources very carefully are going to find themselves in pretty terrible situations. But then again, it is the post-apocalypse, and the emphasis on survival makes this RPG stick out.

Unfortunately, that difficulty expands into the quest design as well, and that presents some problems. Quests are often obtuse. Objectives are difficult to understand, and players will often run out of resources before they can figure out what to do. That aspect of the game’s difficulty can sometimes be really infuriating.

However, a lot of the quests also do really interesting things when it comes to character development and storytelling, so perhaps some players will let “Wasteland 2” off the hook on that.

“Wasteland 2” revels in old-school RPG design, and while some will be put off by the difficulty, players who are demanding a more difficult RPG experience will really get something great out of this title. It’s a pure role-playing experience, and there’s not enough of that in the gaming space nowadays. It doesn’t do a lot new, but sometimes audiences need less new and more comforting nostalgia. Players who are yearning for a return to the days of Interplay need to give “Wasteland 2” a try.

 

September 30, 2014 George Hyde

Game: “Minimum” Developer: Human Head Studios Platform: PC Release Date: Sept. 10, 2014 Rating: 4/5 +Great genre mixing +Looks stunning -Glitches abound Many genre mixtures this past year have experimented and failed. It’s for this reason that “Minimum” is such a pleasant surprise. It blends MOBA-style mechanics from games like “League of Legends” with third-person…

September 19, 2014 George Hyde

Bungie is primarily known as the developer of the “Halo” series. Even three years after it split off from Microsoft, its staff remained loyal to the franchise that helped make them famous. Now, in 2014, they’ve delivered a brand new intellectual property for all platforms, except PC, much to the ire of some enthusiasts: the…

August 26, 2014 George Hyde

Game: “Ultra Street Fighter IV” Developer: Capcom Platforms: PS3, 360, PC Genre: Fighting Release Date: Aug. 5, 2014 Rating: 4 Something strange happened when the original “Street Fighter IV” hit the scene almost five years ago. Suddenly, a seemingly-dead genre sprung to life with a vim unlike any other genre revival in the history of…