Killer Instinct

Before I get in to the review of this game, I must state I only have used Jago. I bought him first to see if I am going to be interested in the full game.

I spent basically my entire childhood, in elementary school, playing Killer Instinct on SNES with my friends every day after school. We occasionally visited the arcade, back in the before times when such places existed. If you don’t know what an arcade is, don’t worry – no one does anymore. So, having obviously spent countless hours destroying my fingers to do ultimate combos with Eyedol, it’s needless to say any return of the Killer Instinct franchise would pique my interest.

It’s been 19.5 years so my memory may be a little rusty, but I feel the Double Helix game captures the essence of the old game very well. It is still very satisfying to pull off massive combos, and to know that queuing all these commands on your controller paid off.

Combat seems to have been ramped up now. You have three kicks, three punches, and then multiple variations of each movie that uses those six buttons. Combos are chained together with specific structure (though they needn’t be, necessarily) that end up being as rewarding as they are difficult to do. Again I may not remember, but it seems the technicality of the fighting has been expanded since the old days. I don’t remember fake-outs or tick throws or any of that existing before, but maybe they did. They do in other fighting games, but again this was 1994 and I don’t remember. Whether it was the case then or not, it’s the case now and Killer Instinct – from my view as someone who doesn’t obsess over fighting games – is a pretty solid package. It contains the complexity of many other fighting games, with a simplicity that allows non-fighting game players to pick it up and learn pretty quickly.

I think really the thing people dislike this game for is the micro-transactions. It’s pretty ridiculous to pay $5 per character but you could just buy all the characters. If you only want Jago, then only get Jago. At least that way you can learn each character at your own pace. Here’s to hoping for the return of Eyedol, Skeletal, Cinder, Fulgore, and TJ Combo. And Riptor. Riptor, that fuckhead.

Ryse: Son of Rome

Ryse went through an interesting journey on it’s way to become an Xbox launch title this year. It started out as a Kinect game before that was entirely scrapped, and in the end it became a “God of War” clone in the eyes of the ignorant. While nothing can be said of what the game might have been, the game that did end up on the Xbox deserves far more credit than most people have given it after marking it off as a “QTE fest”.

The game literally does not feature a single QTE from start to finish, at least not technically. In order to get “legendary” or “centurion” executions on enemies – which give you the most XP or health/focus regained – you do have to follow the button prompts. Unlike more annoying prompts of the past where the button itself is slapped on the screen, a practice which reached it’s peak of stupidity in the God of War series where the buttons were in a different place each game and you literally were punished by losing a massive amount of health if you messed up, in Ryse the enemy you are killing or object you are attacking glows the color of the button you should press. The button doesn’t have to be pressed, it doesn’t matter, you just won’t get as many points. There is one place in the game, though, where you do need to press the right buttons, which is literally the last 5 minutes of the game, otherwise you are boned.

Graphically, Ryse is easily the most beautiful game on console right now, including Battlefield and Killzone. The Crytek people excel at one thing, and that is making their engine ridiculously pretty. Character animations are all smooth, down to their lips when they talk or the swing of their axes and swords, and look entirely convincing. The skin textures for the people and the advanced graphics that are now being used such as sub-surface scattering or layered texture overlays to put blood and dirt, or even facial stubble, onto models is awesome as well. One thing is for sure, graphically this game is entirely “next gen”. It may not be full 1080p but it’s hardly noticeable outside of Upload Studio.

As a former student of archaeology and Mediterranean history, I can’t help but point out the wild inaccuracies of the story. Barbarians never invaded during the reign of Nero, especially not Boudica who never left Britain and died there after or during the rebellion that destroyed London; Nero never authorized the legions to leave Britain and they never did; Nero also never had any children. On top of that, the scutum carried by the soldiers are all wrong. They all are based on inaccurate hollywood depictions of late period Praetorian guard who carried smaller scutum. It wouldn’t be a big deal – and isn’t too big of a deal – but the entire structure of a Roman legion boils down to the shield. Each soldier wore only one greave, on his right leg – because his left leg was meant to be protected by his shield, and doubly protected by the shields on either side of him in the line. Anyway, as with literally all entertainment media involving Rome, history is fudged over intentionally.

These damn graphics.

Despite those fudgings, the story is actually quite interesting – if Rome is the kind of thing you dig. Instead of following the mythological wet dream fan-fiction route of God of War, Crytek decided to craft a story that actually made sense. Ryse is a revenge story, mind you, just like God of War, but the mythological aspects and the characters themselves contain far more depth and behave far more realistically.

One valid complaint from many sources is the combat in this game. It can get repetitive, and probably will, but the game isn’t long enough to make you get tired of it. It took me maybe 7 hours to beat the game and that was with creating upload studio videos of certain parts, as well as dying repeatedly on one particular boss. So you should be able to beat the game before it ever gets repetitive. What this boils down to is that you don’t have more than two attacks. You can shield bash, and you can strike with the sword – in different ways. Other than that Marius can block or roll. There are no fancy Thera’s Bane or spinny tops of death here. Which is kind of a shame, because your enemies all get to do cooler attacks than you.

The combat system is very simplistic but it is rewarding for those who can enjoy it. What little levelling system does exist in the game seems to be unimportant, though I did not experiment with not levelling up. I for one didn’t even know you could learn new executions until I already beat the game on normal and started on Legendary. If Ryse does evolve into a franchise, it would be very pleasant to see some more depth added to the combat, or to take it a little off the rails and give you a move list like true hack and slash games such as Dante’s Inferno, Ninja Gaiden, or others.

 Ryse is definitely worth the time to check out for anyone who likes mythology, ancient history, and/or hack and slash games. The experience is thoroughly entertaining from start to finish, and the game accomplishes exactly what it set out to. If all goes well, hopefully Ryse will become a deeper game than this brief but engaging slash fest.

Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge

Fans of the original Ninja Gaiden will be pleased with this game, despite some more Western game mechanics, and people who hated rockets in Ninja Gaiden 2…..you should probably look elsewhere for a new hack and slash.

Interestingly enough the story of Ninja Gaiden 3 does actually recognize the existence of the first two, whereas Ninja Gaiden 2 seemed to disregard your blood soaked trek through the Vigoor Empire and back again. Having said that, you have to unfortunately learn every single move again , otherwise you can’t do them. Who would want to start off the game being super powerful and badass. That wouldn’t be fun at all.

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Oh wait, yes it would.

Ninja Gaiden 3 makes some modern updates to the formula, when it comes to learning and levelling your magic, health, costume, and available skills and weapons. Whereas in the first two games, and their PS3 ports, you had to basically pick up a scroll from a dead ninja or upgrade your weapon to learn anything new, you now get to use all those karma points you’re banking up to pay for new abilities. I guess they decided that these meaningless number from before should serve a purpose other than bragging, and I find the change to be for the better.

Golden scarabs also make a come back from the first game, and they are your key to unlocking new weapons and upgrades. Crystal skulls too make a comeback, and have replaced the previous iteration of tests of valor.

All in all, the game seems to be a lot more reminiscent of the first game and it’s ludicrous action than the second game ever was. You’ll spend a lot of time killing helicopters en masse, blowing up vehicles, fighting actual humans and ninjas and hanging out in real world-like locations, as opposed to the latter chapters of both 1 and 2 where you were in the underworld or an otherwise hellishly morphed location.

The graphics have received an update, and thankfully the story itself actually takes advantage of the new engines abilities to make the game seem halfway serious.

Really the gameplay hasn’t changed much at all. Blood fury has been introduced and will probably always be used more than ultimates, but if you’re me than you pretty much always use obliteration techniques and swap out some blood fury combos when possible. I don’t remember the differences between this game and the original NG3 – but I do remember this game took out some of the terrible mechanics like auto-blocking and the horrible kill cams and such that were in the original 3, in exchange for a more familiar and less easy experience.

There are some incredibly stupid sections of the game, and unfortunately they’re attributed directly to the story – rather than for the hell of it – such as fighting a giant dinosaur. Yes, yes, you had to fight a giant skeletal dragon thing in the first game. Yes you had to fight multiple drakes in Ninja Gaiden 2, and a water dragon, and ghost pirahnas. But this, honestly. It’s not even the concept, it’s the fact that the mechanics force you not to attack it until they want you to.

So dumb.

Ayane, Momiji, and Kasumi were included in the new game as well, because they felt Ninja Gaiden 3 lacked in tits compared to it’s previous entries. Fortunately though, with some fan service aside, the kunoichis are actually quite enjoyable to play as, especially Ayane.

All in all, I can honestly say Razor’s Edge is the Ninja Gaiden 3 we deserved, and certainly hope the franchise finds new life with this new generation of consoles. If you like NG1 and 2, or Sigma and Sigma 2, please – avoid Ninja Gaiden 3, and get Razor’s Edge

Having established that, the game has some extremely infuriating and arbitrary issues, on purpose, to make it more difficult than it needs to be. One of the most glaring problems is that clearly, someone at Team Ninja played too many fighting games before they worked on this. Elements of Street Fighter and MvC and even Naruto can be seen in this game when one enemy, multiple enemies, or even a boss begins to corner rape you and will literally chain you into an endless string of attacks that both cannot be countered in mid-combo, and instantly kill you.

Interestingly enough, you’ll get instantly killed because some idiot also thought you shouldn’t be allowed to utilize your full health bar for the vast majority of the game. Ninja Gaiden has always done this neat thing where, as soon as you exit combat, all of the health you lost gets regenerated up until a certain percentage of your health bar. So, this asshat decided “Hey, once you get hit down to a certain percentage, those upgrades to your health that you spent hundreds of thousands of Karma on, they go away permanently until you next save.

This truly wouldn’t be a big deal, except NG3 and Razor’s Edge both completely eliminated healing items, and items of any sort, from the game altogether. No longer can you pause to look at technique scrolls, switch ninpo or weapons, or use items. Combined with the in-game move list they added, it’s pretty clear they wanted this to be more of a pure arcadey action game. As if you had to insert more quarters into your console every time you died and they would profit off of it. Fucking idiots. Nowhere in the game is this more glaring of a problem than the last boss of chapter 4.

As you are often forced to do, you must fight a two phase battle with this boss. The boss’s move set doesn’t change at all from one phase to another, but your health only restores to a certain point. If you get hit, you’re done. You lost. One fury attack from the boss and you’re completely screwed. Even if you are lucky enough to have a full ninpo bar, the health it will restore is virtually useless as soon as you get hit once, because there’s no way you’re charging that entire meter up again with only one enemy who you can only hit sparingly and doesn’t die.

If you enjoy self-flagellation and maybe breaking controllers, this is definitely the Ninja Gaiden you are looking for. If you are unfortunate enough to be a completionist and OCD about having to finish a franchise or trilogy, I feel your pain. And I’m sorry.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin’s Creed IV seemed like a joke when it was first leaked on Reddit, and hopefully I wasn’t the only person who scoffed when a couple of weeks later, the game was officially revealed. An entire three months or so after AC3 came out. I scoffed, though I knew I would be buying it. Fortunately, ACIV happens to be one of the best games in the franchise – certainly the best since AC2.

Black Flag sheds most of the lore of the franchise, mostly abandoning Templars and Assassins in exchange for the conflict between Pirates and the British authorities in the region, to make a game that’s pretty much all about sailing around and doing what you want. The story plays a back seat to the gameplay, so much so that it seems to abruptly cut off with no resolution after an admittedly disappointing end. That is just the timeline section of the story, too.

The modern day story, while providing a wealth of backstory and expanding the AC universe beyond the first five games, is entirely predictable and downright implausible once you actually see what’s happening (which will be within 2 minutes on the first mission, unless you go around hacking computers first.) It also stops making much sense by the end of the last modern day sequence. Did I mention that you play a John Doe in first person view the whole time, who is hired to use the animus in mining Desmond’s memory “for next-gen movies?” Obviously that’s not entirely true, but it feels incredibly cheap and ridiculous.

Yes, you walk around with a tablet in first person and it's ridiculous.

Yes, you walk around with a tablet in first person and it’s ridiculous.

Even worse – the expanded back-story that you read in the game, from Abstergo, quite literally outlines all the brainstorming Ubisoft has done in regards to potential future AC games, with several different time periods mentioned and classified under Desmonds matriarchal and patriarchal lines of lineage. It’s both awesome, and sickening at the same time, because you can see how they have plans to potentially extend this franchise for years to come.

In terms of gameplay, Black Flag combines almost everything from the previous games into the most comprehensive and stream-lined package yet. Combat is very smooth and has been dumbed down about as much as possible, though it remains fun. Free running and climbing has changed very little, other than the tree platforming having been improved. Unfortunately, though, you can longer call upon assassin’s to do your bidding, as you have no assassin’s. You consequently have no assassin minigame. And, ultimately, the game still has the same clumsy oversights or glitches that have plagued every title.

You can still suffer from accidentally running up a tree or building when trying to chase someone, or you may end up getting nearly killed when an enemy swings at you because counters are only recognized if you are within a certain distance and moving minimally. Compared to previous titles, these things almost never happen.

Having played AC3 extensively, there is an inarguable positive to this game in comparison: Ubisoft did away with the troll-tastic “optional objectives” from AC3. They also did away with horrid chase missions, almost entirely. Every optional objective is reasonable and attainable. Every mission is “easy” enough that it doesn’t become a complete pain in the ass, though some will be frustrating.

Black Flag’s biggest appeal is that it features a ridiculous amount of content. The main story isn’t terribly long, but the sheer number of areas to explore, side missions, items to collect, animals to hunt, weapons and other items will keep you playing for a long time even before any DLC comes out. The cohesive grandeur of the older games may no longer be present, but it has more than been made up for with gameplay.

Most of these cities and islands have their own individual maps as wel

Most of these cities and islands have their own individual maps as wel

And last but not least: sea shanties. So many sea shanties, so many of which are excellent songs – though their real world versions are less politically correct and much more entertaining.