Forma.8 Review (Switch) – “Explore Your Patience”

Forma.8 is an exploratory puzzler of sorts by indie developer MixedBag. Originally available on Steam and other home consoles, it has finally made its way to the Nintendo Switch. The added availability of portability with the Switch accompanies this game well, but is it enough of an incentive to pick it up?

You’re introduced to the game with a rather short but simple cutscene. You play as a mechanistic droid, one of many, who’s only mission it seems is to explore and gather information on an otherwise uninhabited planet. You soon find out that there is quite a bit of life on this planet, as well as a few secrets. Besides the opening cutscene, there isn’t much the game does to hold your hand. You quickly learn how to “attack” via a short range radial burst of energy and you’re sent on your way to explore.

Forma.8 attempts to seem simple at the beginning, letting you find your own way and discover things for yourself. While in theory this works well, in actuality it may turn away a few players at the beginning. Personally, diving into the unknown is something I do quite a bit in games – I prefer the “true” experience actually. However, Forma.8 might benefit from a little more hand-holding at the beginning. I wandered around for a while with no clear direction or objective, I was just exploring. Taking in the simplistically beautiful environments and letting my mind wander with the underlying musical score. I really enjoyed this. After all, that was my purpose. It wasn’t until I realized what my goal was that I came to the conclusion that I would have to backtrack through everything I had just explored in order to reassess my surroundings, and approach the areas with my new found knowledge. This was far too tedious for even my liking.

The majority of your time in Forma.8 will be driving your small circular metal body around, trying not to crash into walls or get attacked by the fauna and flora. If you get hurt, it’s really not a big deal as there is health, as well as enemies who drop health, everywhere. The game is split into rooms of varying sizes. Some you can spend quite a bit of time in, others are just there for connections. However, all of them seem to have one thing in common: loading times to get in. On the Switch at least, loading into each room would take a few seconds, up to 15 at one point. Followed by frame stuttering upon entering areas, this really drew away from the experience; especially considering none of the rooms, as minimal and pretty as they are, should take any time to load on a modern day system.

Occasionally, you will stumble across a puzzle which can vary in difficulty. Often you’ll find racing puzzles, requiring you to tag glowing spheres before a timer is up, thus opening doors. You’ll also come across slightly more complex puzzles, as well as “boss fights”, which are essentially just stressful puzzles and highlight some of the game’s finer moments. If it weren’t for the small number of actions you’re limited to, in combination with the floaty movement of your little drone, many of these would be fairly easy.

When you solve these puzzles or defeat certain enemies, you are often presented with one of two types of collectibles. One is a nut (hardware… come on) and the other is a key. The nuts are for… well best you find out for yourself. The keys open the multitude of doors strewn throughout the various rooms in the vast world. The first half of my playthrough was severely limited on finding either of these. Sporadically, I would find nuts but only when the game wanted me to would I find a key. This severely limited my exploration and at multiple times became increasingly frustrating. At one instance, it was rage quit inducing upon realizing I had to traverse the entire world back through just to progress again. Some of this could have been avoided if the value of the collectibles were presented a little earlier in the game, but it also would have ruined some of the mystery of it.

Overall, the game plays rather slowly and can be monotonous. The minimalistic, colorful backgrounds and music have a Sound Shapes vibe to them that I thoroughly enjoyed, but it wasn’t enough to keep my playing for long periods of time. In reality, I enjoyed this game much more in the Switch’s handheld mode during travel. The slow pacing was perfect for travelling, when I may need to pause at any moment and pick it back up again. While docked, I constantly found myself thinking I could be playing something else that held my attention a little better. The puzzles are fun and some may take a moment to contemplate, but nothing really held me up and they are spaced somewhat infrequently when they really should have taken precedent, as there isn’t much else to do in the world. The game is only $10, but unless you commute frequently, I would wait for it to drop in price a bit before picking it up. It’s not a game you can pick up and beat in one setting, but that doesn’t mean it’s long either.

Overall Score: 5.5 out of 10 = Wait for a price drop…

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Forma.8! Copy reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

Enjoy our review? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @GamersXTREME for the latest in gaming news and reviews.

Curious to how our review system works? Check out the About section.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice Review (PS4) – “Enter Madness”

Developed by Ninja Theory (Devil May Cry 2013, Heavenly Sword), Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice tells the tale of a young Pict (think Celtic) warrior who travels into Norse Hell to beg for her deceased lover’s soul back. His head, strung around her waist and wrapped in burlap, is a constant reminder of her loss and motivation. From the beginning this literal symbol sets the tone of the journey as we witness this round bag begin to take form of a skull and “breathe”. You see, Senua is not a normal warrior, due to the trauma she has undergone, she is forced to live with symptoms of severe psychosis. Ninja Theory uses this story as an attempt to de-stigmatize the culture surrounding psychosis and shed some light on what people who suffer from this ailment have to live with. So, does Hellblade deliver the innovative and delicate package in an enjoyable game, while simultaneously educating its player base? Or will it make you go mad just attempting to comprehend the complexity of it?

Story: 4/5

Luckily for us, Ninja Theory has indeed accomplished their quest to not only provide us with an incredible game, but properly portray mental health issues in a medium that has not really been utilized before. Hellblade puts you inside of Senua’s mind from the beginning. You start by cautiously rowing down a dark, eerie river and though you can see no one besides Senua, you hear voices – many voices. Some are encouraging, some are scared, and some mock you. This goes on for a good few minutes until you finally reach your destination. By the time you disembark your hand-crafted boat, the voices are already permeating into your own personal thoughts and you become quickly emerged into Senua’s way of thinking. She is scared but determined, and as one of the voices tells you to turn back, you push the boat away, out of reach, and you know that you are now fully committed to the task.

Senua’s journey starts her at the gates of Hellheim, Norse mythology’s depiction of Hell. They are locked and therefore you must travel to the two gatekeeper’s lands in order to defeat them and unlock the gate. Before you can advance too far, you are rushed by a number of demons who would thwart your efforts to enter the land of the dead. During this, you are presented with a very interesting mechanic. Considering Senua’s mental state and the strain of the tasks that fall before her, Ninja Theory has given the player a way of monitoring her mental degradation in a visual way by creating what is simply called “the Rot”. A grotesque depiction of her ailment is emblazed on her right arm. Brown and oozing, as flesh melts away it slowly eats at her, growing up her forearm to her neck and eventually her head. The game specifically and blatantly states what will happen if you let the Rot devour Senua by dying too many times: Senua will be consumed by it, perish, and your entire progress will be lost (or will it?). This instantly creates a feeling of anxiety in the player to match that of Senua’s. The constant reminder that too many mistakes will cost you everything is all too real and intense, and instills an incredible ongoing experience.

Upon venturing to the first gatekeeper’s land, your host of voices are joined by another, Druth, who helps guide you and keeps you moving forward. He acts as Senua’s reasoning and persistence by helping her make sense of the world. Senua’s entire journey is symbolic in many ways and the gatekeepers are a fantastic way to display this. One represents Senua’s physical suffering. As you traverse the scorched, scarred and barren wastelands of this region you are reminded of not only her own anguish, but of those around her; those she lived with and watched die. The atmosphere of this adventure evokes a feeling of helplessness, guilt and pain.

The other keeper represents Senua’s mental suffering. Illusions and hallucinations fill this area to give you a paranoid feeling that at any time, from any place, something is going to come after you. By the end of this section, you feel you can no longer trust anything you see, perfectly embodying what Senua herself would be seeing.

Upon opening the gate and venturing into Hellheim, you are presented with a feeling of accomplishment and assurance that you may actually be able to do this. You are then knocked down a few pegs and a new voice emerges to cast doubt upon your every action. “The Shadow” as he is called, has a terrifying air about him and will take any chance to demoralize you and berate you. Senua must learn to press forward with all of these conflicting voices in her head as she struggles not only to physically continue, but to build up the courage to do so as well. The journey becomes more difficult as she progresses and with every gripping cutscene you experience, you become more and more attached to her until her story becomes yours.

Laid out along your path in the story are objects called “lorestones”. They are treated like collectibles, but only a few are truly difficult to miss. They give insight to Senua’s Norse religion and world; how things are explained by her people and why certain beings are present, as well as any lessons we can learn from them. They may not all relate directly to the story, but many give background and are at the very least intriguing to hear about, it would also be wise to collect all of them, as this is the only miss-able trophy for a one playthrough platinum.

Throughout the story we get glimpses at Senua’s life before the incident. Most of the tales are not happy ones, but they all give way to pieces of information that help explain why Senua is in her current state. Her story is rarely laid out plainly in front of you; it takes a little bit of critical thinking to truly grasp what has just unfolded at times. There are flashbacks and dramatic changes in environment that cannot often be explained right away. Normally, this would be too confusing to follow in a game. However, Ninja Theory repeatedly introduces you to this concept of seeing through Senua’s eyes and you begin to understand that perhaps not everything she sees or experiences is 100% truth. This is not a story that should be played only once to fully grasp what has happened. Even at the end, I still had to take a minute to grasp what had transpired and what it meant for our beloved character.

While it doesn’t dive into the entire story, Ninja Theory has provided a bonus excerpt that should be watched once you complete the game. Due to the game’s dealings with psychosis, Ninja Theory thought it would be wise and helpful to include a 25 minute video explaining their creative process and the reasoning behind so many decisions. In this video, there are a few explanations to some of Senua’s experiences and background that help shed light on what has transpired if you have difficulty grasping it from the story.  This video was highly enjoyable and informative. My wife, a social worker who has studied psychosis and other mental illnesses, watched it with me and agreed that what they were showing and explaining was quite impressive. It was very comforting to know how and why they approached the game the way they did, and what they were trying to convey about psychosis. If you are to play this game, you should watch it (after completing it once of course).

Gameplay: 4/5

Hellblade splits gameplay into two successful sections: puzzles and combat. The former takes precedent, while the latter is treated as more of a break, until you reach the end of the story. The puzzles in Hellblade range from simple to moderate, and rarely frustrating. In an attempt to better showcase the effects psychosis might have on someone and their actions, most of the puzzles provide a demonstration of how Senua would try to make sense of her world. For instance, many locked doors have runes on them that appear to be random arrangements of lines. However, spend enough time looking at the world and you can find those exact lines somewhere hidden in say, the formation of a few downed trees. Once you locate the symbols, you can focus on them and the doors will open. Of course, the entire time you’re solving these puzzles you are constantly being led astray or doubted by the voices in your head. Other puzzles include seeing through illusions and altering your perspective of the world to drastic levels. While many of the puzzles won’t keep you hung up for long, they do a very nice job of helping you understand Senua’s mind, which in a game about psychosis is a very smart and tactful experience.

The combat in Hellblade is tremendously satisfying and rewarding. You can view the controls from the main menu, but outside of that there is hardly a tutorial on how to survive when up against demons. The game kind of throws you into the fray rather quickly, which aids in its quest to make you feel outnumbered, underprepared, scared and cautious – but capable. You can attack with quick, heavy or melee attacks (kicks/shoves to throw off balance); as well as dodge and block. Different hits and combos can be strategically used depending on the enemy, and this adds a nice layer of complexity and variation to the battles. Each hit you land on an enemy has a substantial weight to it, really solidifying your connection. Of course each hit the enemy lands on you puts you close to dying and subsequently allowing the Rot to grow. Senua is also able to build up a focus meter during combat which will allow her to slow time down and deal more damage faster to enemies. This mechanic saved me time and time again in the late game!

Combat is typically handled in a slow, standoff fashion as anywhere from 1 to… many… enemies dauntingly take their time advancing upon you. You can lock-on to a single enemy and take them on one-on-one, but you’ll need to be cautious about the other encroaching threats. Thankfully, the voices in your head will warn you if you are about to be attacked, or when you should dodge, block, or finish an enemy off. In a world all by yourself, it’s good to have some backup. Boss fights tend to be a little faster-paced, but that doesn’t mean they will only last a short while. A particular boss fight took me 20+ minutes to defeat even with constant attacks on my part (this may be patched out in a recent update). Each fight you are presented with is a tense battle, and though I never failed a fight sequence, there were many times when I had to take a minute because I thought there would be no way out of this – that surely, I was meant to die to progress the story instead of defeat everything the game had thrown at me. This terrible feeling of unavoidable failure is paramount in delivering Senua’s experience to the player. You are not a one woman army. You will struggle. You will doubt yourself. But you will persevere.

There were times when I was frustrated by the combat however. A few sequences pit you against seemingly endless enemies in small quarters, and to navigate around to avoid them is difficult when you have to stay locked-on to one at all times. You find yourself dodging repeatedly just to move faster and it kind of takes you out of the experience – not to mention get you killed easily.

The game is quite linear with very little actual exploration, though some is necessary to find all of the lorestones. Advancing through the story, the gameplay is a fantastic way to exhibit Senua’s evolving emotions and really helps pull the player in more.

Graphics: 5/5

From the beginning, Hellblade is a gorgeous game. Textures, lighting and physics all play well together to form a complete package that surrounds the player and plunges them into the world. With the game focused on Senua in third-person, it is reassuring to see her dreadlocks, matted and torn, in such great detail. Her face shows life throughout the game and easily shifts from emotion to emotion. Her clothes are worn and get progressively worse as you tread through the underworld. The environments are clean and detailed, to the point where simply walking around is a pleasure.

While the game is primarily set in dark tones (considering it IS Hell after all), the game does offer a few glimpses into a lighter, warmer atmosphere that is equally as detailed and enjoyable.  Due to the consistent darkness of the world, these breaks into a more joyous environment really pop and provide a feeling of being at ease, if only for a moment.

Enemies are just as detailed as Senua, and will show injuring and scarring as you damage them. The interesting thing is how the developers handled cutscenes and other characters. The times when Senua is alone and featured in an important scene, Ninja Theory uses their new technology to achieve incredible precision in facial feature tracking. At one point, my wife walked in during a scene and was taken back by how she thought Melina Juergens herself was being shown. These moments are breathtaking in their graphical fidelity and accuracy in facial expressions. Other cutscenes take a less impressive, but still effective, route of delivery. Senua is portrayed closely to how she is in gameplay, which is still very well done, however the main voices she hears in her head are shown as distorted renders of live-action actors. At first this contrast was a bit jarring, however upon thinking on it for a few minutes it makes complete sense. Everyone Senua talks to is not actually there. The stark difference in illustration of the characters is a clear portrayal of Senua’s suffering: that she knows, on some level, that these voices she is hearing and these people she is talking to do not exist. This visual aid for the player may seem a bit unpolished at first (also considering this was potentially done in part to save on costs), but it works with the theme of the game and yet again delivers an amazing experience to the player to keep them in Senua’s world.

There were only two instances in the game where physics seemed to overrule the laws of the game and constant pieces of enemies began to convulse rapidly, becoming very distracting and off-putting but not persistent. With a simple, yet satisfactory photo mode active during almost the entire game, you can capture some truly beautiful or haunting moments. The graphics also seemed to hold consistently with no noticeable drops in framerate.

Sound: 5/5

The perfect bow to wrap up the gift of Senua’s journey is how Hellblade handles the game’s audio. Upon starting up the game, you are notified that it is best enjoyed with a headset. I was using a 7.1 virtual surround sound headset, as well as listening to the game straight from the TV for comparison. There is a stark difference and I highly recommend playing this game with a headset, even if it isn’t virtual surround sound. This is because (as detailed in the bonus “Hellblade Experience” video) Ninja Theory captured their audio tracks in 4D, so the voices that Senua hears were literally coming from certain directions. Considering the voices are omnipresent, they need to feel like they surround you and it is pulled off near perfectly. This feeling of being unable to escape the influences of your own thoughts is essential to the experience.

Hellblade not only uses these voices to create an atmosphere for the player, it also chooses when they are most frequent or in the most eerie of times, not present at all. This careful balance of voices, music, environment, and ambience audio tracks are so meticulously crafted you won’t even notice them changing. The audio alone captures the entire motif of Senua’s adventure. Not only was the background exceptional, Melina’s, and the other actors’, performances were among some of the best acting in video games in the past few years. They were able to draw you in and create the emotions they needed to portray with ease and consistency.

The game also had a very natural flow to it. Using the audio in parallel with the story, the game was able to control the player’s feelings to help smoothen out the more “intense” events of the game, as well as build you up with self-assurance when it needed too! Hellblade would not have been half the game if it slacked on the audio aspect, and thankfully for all of us it truly delivered a flawless experience.

Overall Score: 18/20 = 9.0 out of 10

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is much more than a warrior’s journey of love. It is about overcoming, as well as accepting, aspects of one’s self that were previously holding you back. It marvelously ensnares the player into the emotions and state of Senua, and effectively ensures that you are right there with her the entire time. Through a clever system of puzzles, overwhelming combat, as well as audio and visual trickery, Ninja Theory created a game that simulates aspects of psychosis in an effort to better destigmatize the illness. Acting in Hellblade is impeccable, and while it can at times feel like a slower-paced game, it is thoroughly enjoyable and challenging. The story can be a bit confusing at times, so multiple playthroughs are recommended (only about 6-8 hrs per playthrough). This $30 game should not be passed on by anyone who wants an experience different from any other game.

Pros:

+ Only $30

+ Satisfying and challenging combat

+ Complex story

Cons:

– Somewhat repetitive puzzles

– Never ending feeling of doubt

– You may start to hear voices…

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was purchased by the reviewer and tested for the PlayStation 4 system.

Enjoy our review? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @GamersXTREME for the latest in gaming news and reviews.

Curious to how our review system works? Check out the About section.

Aragami Review (PS4/X1): “Embrace the Shadows”


Lince Works takes us back a step in the stealth genre with Aragami. With many so-called stealth games to dilute the pool (Dishonored, Thief, Styx), it would have appeared as though the formula was set in place. Luckily for us, that’s where Aragami comes in and shakes things up a bit. By forcing the player to use their wits and plan accordingly, Aragami takes a well-needed step back. So does it succeed? Or does Aragami sulk in the shadows? 

Story: 4/5

You play as Aragami, a vengeful spirit summoned by a sorceress, Yamiko, who is being held captive by the pillaging “Warriors of Light”, Kaiho, who have been at war with the “Shadow Warriors”. Beyond what you are, Aragami starts off as a mystery that slowly unfolds as you meticulously make your way through the game’s 8 chapters, for a total completion time of around 12-15 hours. You are told that in order to free the sorceress and allow her clan to take vengeance upon Kaiho, you need to collect 6 talismans, each of which are heavily guarded. As you reclaim the talismans, you are reunited with lost memories; some of which belong to the sorceress, while some belong to the person you were before your death, and consequently your resurrection. Uncovering these memories is key to the story of Aragami, but so is paying careful attention throughout each chapter. Enemies talk amongst one another and provide valuable information that can sway your perspective as to what is going on with the mysterious sorceress and where you come in as the deadly assassin (or ghostly shadow depending on your preference). 

After paying attention to enemy NPC’s conversations, I was sure I had the story figured out way before I thought I was supposed to. And then Aragami did something… mischievous. It kept me guessing. Not enough to definitively change my mind, but just enough to ensure I wasn’t sure. This was achieved by playing with the child-parent-like bond between Yamiko and Aragami in the main cutscenes. Aragami, really not sure of anything, knows he can only trust one person – Yamiko, who gave him life. However, as Aragami discovered more memories of both himself and Yamiko, he begins to become troubled and confused. Nonetheless, his faith in his creator and the knowledge of his only living purpose, revenge, keeps him moving forward. While Aragami did end how I anticipated, I thoroughly enjoyed the character development and the slight toying with my emotions throughout the story. Through the main cutscenes and small gems riddled in the gameplay through AI conversations, you are able to see all sides of this feud and you come to an understanding of how everyone got to where they are. It was almost poetic how at the last scene unfolds. And just when you think you know how it all will end, the developers throw one line – two words – to make you sit back and truly understand the struggles of these warring factions.

Gameplay: 5/5

Aragami is not like the stealth games we’ve come to know. In fact, after playing Aragami it is difficult to consider most other games as actual “stealth games”. Aragami himself has actually no combat capabilities, meaning once you are discovered you must run and hide, or carefully remove your opponents with finesse. This sort of limitation is not seen in many stealth games, as many of them offer you a chance to fight back and then flee if necessary. You are however given a small set of skills that are carefully designed for different scenarios.

You start out with the basics: shadow teleportation. It’s a simple concept to start, you can only move quickly between shadows, using up a small amount of shadow power that is displayed on your cape. This shadow power is the basis for all of your abilities. It restores in shadows and gets quickly removed when standing in light sources. You soon gain the ability to create shadows to teleport into, albeit at the hefty cost of shadow power. After this however, you are on your own to develop Aragami as you see fit. You discover cleverly (and frustratingly) placed scrolls which offer skill points that can be spent on different shadow powers. There are six of these powers in total, three are deemed as defensive, while the other three are offensive. It is an interesting classification as I personally would not consider many of them offensive (save for the kunai, which when thrown instantly kills a single opponent). A better nomenclature for all of the skills would simply be “strategic”, and that is definitely the theme of the game and I believe what the developers were trying to drive home. Almost any of the abilities can be used in a number of different ways, something that was truly a pleasure to explore and trial! My personal favorite was a shadow vortex trap, that when placed could be triggered from any location and instantly (and silently) move any number of nearby enemies into another realm. I found that in order to progress through certain situations, some skills were more useful than others. By the last chapter, I discovered uses for all skills that I hadn’t thought of before and was using each of them frequently! Some might consider these abilities overpowered but luckily there is a limitation to them. You are allowed only two uses per ability. However, shrines that restore all abilities are located throughout each level, and a particularly badass stealth kill skill can restore one use to the equipped ability. 

Like most stealth games, you are provided the option of killing everyone, no one, or somewhere in the morally unsound grey area. Unlike most stealth games, you are given natural tools to aid you in your endeavors as well. The first two talismans you acquire offer you a marking ability, which upon upgrading can track enemies through walls, and something I feel every true stealth game should have: a noise maker. Previous games we’ve seen whistling or banging your sword on objects to distract nearby guards, in this game it is a simple bangle. This small tool is revolutionary in stealth games and has a huge impact on gameplay, so I was thrilled to see it included. 

Aragami gets something else right that honestly was completely unanticipated: boss fights. Besides a rather fast-paced technical section, there were in fact three distinct boss fights and each of them were expertly handled and impressively varied. Considering the limited nature of most stealth games, it is often difficult to incorporate mechanics outside of the normal gameplay. However, Aragami’s clever abilities payed off well here. By thinking outside of the box, I was able to use my abilities in ways I didn’t even think of before in order to overcome a more challenging threat. This was truly a unique experience as many previous games that attempt this often result in an awkward encounter for the player.

Boss fights aren’t the only thing Aragami does different than its “not-so-stealthy-anymore” predecessors; it also does co-op. You can play through the entire campaign with a friend on a separate console and vanquish your enemies (or not) in all-new and exciting ways! Tag teaming using different abilities in conjunction actually works very well, and having two sets of eyes on the playing field can result in a much smoother run – so long as you’re both on the same page!

Completion of the main story allows your character’s progression to persist so there is plenty of replay value in Aragami. Whether it’s going back to collect all of the scrolls; completing missions with different objectives; or simply going through it cooperatively, this is by far not a single playthrough game.

Graphics: 3/5

Aragami’s simple nature of shadow-versus-light is an easy contrast to play with, and the developers at Lince Works executed it very well. Aragami himself takes on a very satisfying form, changing from tones of black, grey and vibrant red when in the light, to a terrifying all-black when in shadows to let you know when you’re in better hiding. Environments are well decorated but sometimes can feel un-blended depending on the level. There were frequent instances when upon moving the camera, the point of view would jump out of bounds and then suddenly back in; and quite frequently the framerate would drop massively. This led to experiences of stuttering or input lag that in more than one instance resulted in death. Unfortunately, all the careful timing and planning in the world cannot hold up to random spikes and dips in framerate, and in a game where timing can be everything, this can be quite an issue. Luckily the game didn’t seem to suffer any additional consquences of playing online and most deaths are easily recoverable. The animations of various abilities were well thoughtout, smooth and satisfying. I could watch Aragami’s shadow snake coil an enemy and bring him to the shadow realm over and over again and never tire! There was only a handful of clipping cases and overall I felt it was a smooth experience playing through each of the levels, save for a few light intensive ones.

Sound: 4/5

Not only do you have to watch your surroundings and enemies’ movements, you also need to listen to them and the environment. Something that can be overlooked at times in stealth games is carefully handled in Aragami and that is the ambience of the game. The soft and delicate soundtrack plays lightly in the background of each mission. If you didn’t focus on it, you wouldn’t know it was there – and that is exactly how it needs to be to allow your complete, undivided attention to the matter at hand. Only when you are discovered does the music quickly escalate to the heart-pumping chase track that will ensure you’re filled with panic as you realize your mistakes. Footsteps from all sources project well; small light fire sources glisten in your ear and conversations from enemies are clearly heard. Interestingly, the main characters are not completely voiced, relying on text to comprehend any dialogue, but the emotion is there. Regardless, Aragami succeeds in the delicate addition of important sound balancing.

Overall Score: 16/20 = 8.0 out of 10

Aragami is a unique and enjoyable stealth game that succeeds in the minimalistic inclusion of its core elements. Its story was somewhat predictable, but it did a decent job of keeping me interested through a carefully crafted relationship, along with addicting skill and planning-based gameplay. While some graphical issues would occasionally remove me from the full experience, I was pleasantly surprised by the addition of actual boss fights and a well-functioning co-operative mode. With great replay value for those who enjoy proving themselves, it is well worth at least a single playthrough for those who enjoy taking their time in a game.

Pros:

+ Simplistic stealth mechanics that create a true stealth game
+ Creative abilities to aid in problem solving
+ Clever and original boss fights
+ Functioning co-operative mode

Cons:

– Some graphical issues
– Story shows its hand very soon

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Aragami! Copy reviewed on PS4.

Enjoy our review? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @GamersXTREME for the latest in gaming news and reviews.

Curious to how our review system works? Check out the About section.

Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires Review (PS4/X1): “Hack, Slash and Take Control of China Once Again”

DW8E Wallpaper

Dynasty Warriors 8 Empires (DW8E) takes command of the hack and slash world again by offering players the opportunity to take control of China, one divided land at a time. In a more strategic layout than its sister games, DW8E aims to bring the player a new experience of not only conquering, but all of the politics and tact that go with it. Does DW8E coerce its way into our blood thirsty thumbs? Or can we simply not handle the alliance right now?

Story: 4/5

Dynasty Warriors has always been known for having the same story – that is, you can’t really change history; and as this game is based on real events, it can be difficult to sway from how the unification of China actually occurred. Therefore, in traditional fashion, DW8E sets the scene for what is expected. The Yellow Turban rebellion and Romance of the Three Kingdoms make their appearances once again, however they’re handled a little differently. Like in past Empires games, they follow a non-linear storyline, which basically disrupts the entire history play from the start. Instead of following real battles, resulting in certain well-known kingdoms unifying China, you’re allowed to dictate how history actually happened.

When starting up the campaign mode, you’re able to choose from a number of different kingdom distributions. Either the traditional Yellow Turban rebellion set up with China vastly divided, or with certain powers already beginning to take hold, or even a completely random division. From here on out, it’s essentially up to you how history unfolds. You can choose to be your own Lord, starting your own kingdom as whichever character (or custom character) you’ve chosen. You can choose to pledge your allegiance to any number of different kingdoms and fight for them until the end – or you could betray them, or leave and start anew. The options really are impressive. So while it was a slight disappointment that the traditional history lesson offered by most DW games wasn’t entirely present (absent a plethora of interesting facts and mini-lessons during loading screens and the like), it is somewhat refreshing that you’re able to take the history of China into your own hands. Don’t expect anything in-depth and gripping however, as without the traditional events, we’re left with a somewhat dry and repetitive narrative of seizing land and capturing officers until there’s simply no one left. 

1

Gameplay: 5/5

While the story didn’t have that “come back and play” feel to it, the gameplay certainly brought me back time and time again. The first few hours of gameplay are riddled with tutorial messages which are more than necessary. Unlike most DW games, it was almost as if the set up to each battle was more gameplay than the actual hack and slashing! On average, 70% of the time spent playing DW8E was actually utilizing planning what to do next in the kingdom: raise currency, troops, construct facilities, form alliances, participate in raids or quests, get married?! With so many options having major effects on the outcome of your story, you really had to think about what you were about to do – and what that meant many turns down the road. 

The game is set up in rotations of months. Almost everything you do takes up one month, and you’re limited to 50 years of gameplay (600 turns). As stated before, you can start the campaign in any distribution you want, but for the most part you’re either be starting with very little land owned – or none at all. As a free officer (no allegiance to yourself or any kingdom), you can travel the country and enter any kingdom you’d like. Each kingdom contains different weapons, items and quests to undertake to unlock more gear. Therefore, travelling to different locations to purchase different equipment can be very beneficial. However, once you’ve settled down in a kingdom, you’re limited to remaining there. However, you now have the options of building up your kingdom to anything you choose. Should you create your own kingdom, you can pretty much do whatever you want. However, if you join a pre-established kingdom, you must work your way up through the ranks. Performing small quests (capture a caravan, or deliver a supply chain, etc) will unlock different equipment, as well as either boost or hinder your reputation. During large scale invasions, there are also battle objectives which can be completed in order to earn positive merit. Either of these help you move up in the world to both the officers serving in your kingdom, as well as the people of your kingdom. 

4

Once you’ve established some rank, you gain more responsibility which involved keeping generals healthy and people happy. You’ll have to partake in war councils where you set planned invasions to overthrow different territories, or choose to partake in multitude of other events to boost your kingdom. In the end, there are countless ways to succeed or fail in growing a kingdom, which adds a serious amount of depth and strategy to the game unseen in any title previously. 

Thankfully, it’s not all politics and business. The core gameplay has remained largely the same with a few additions. You’re still a one person powerhouse essentially able to turn the tides of any battle, something that is absolutely necessary for any DW game. There are also an extremely large amount of different characters to choose from (with more and more being added every installment) and each containing their own weapon makes them each extremely unique. The dual weapon system has made a return where you contain a main weapon but also a secondary to switch to. Either of these can be switched out before a battle, but it’s best to stick to classes your character has decent proficiency in. A lot of the weapon attributes have been removed, leaving only random skills for weapons and a “rock-paper-scissors” elemental system. There’s also a new system called stratagems. Essentially these are commands (or spells) that affect the entire battlefield. They can be anything from short-lived attack boosts, to archery towers, to entire ambushes. While this offers a nice change of pace, often it was neglected and unnecessary, as being a one person powerhouse meant you could go into battle alone and come out victorious (at least for most of the battles).

5

However, as with any new title there tend to be some omissions. The lack of the option to control voice output from the controller or TV was obnoxious, not to mention the extremely high sensitivity had no way to be adjusted leaving my character and horse control looking like a sporadic, choppy mess often in the wrong direction. The map and text was also very small, leaving me needing to get uncomfortably close to my TV at many times. While you could zoom in on the map during battles, it felt like an all-or-none, where either I could see the entire map but nothing (including my character icon) in it; or I could zoom in to see the 10 foot radius around me and nothing else. 

Multiplayer still exists in both campaign and free mode where you can set up any sort of battle scenario and play it out in a once-and-done type manner. Not only is splitscreen an option, but online was completely present throughout the entire game! As mentioned earlier, the create-an-officer is back, but more importantly create-a-horse is present! You can also customize banners and set up entire custom regiments. Beyond the campaign and free modes, there wasn’t much in the way of challenges as seen in some past entries, but there is definitely enough unlocking and conquering to keep you busy for a long time.

2

Graphics: 2/5

Dynasty Warriors has never been the leader in graphical quality and DW8E follows suit “xtremely” well. While the menus are vibrant and clear, the text is quite small. Normally this wouldn’t be as big of an issue, but when the gameplay involves spending the vast majority looking at the text, it can be a very frustrating thing. It also appears Koei Tecmo has yet to understand what draw distance is. Enemy troops pop in and out drastically in a very small radius of the player. This is not something new by any means, but once would think that after so many successful titles, this would have changed from the PlayStation 2 instead of remaining quite honestly, the exact same. The environments in each battle are nothing to be proud of and have even taken a step back from previous, last gen titles. No longer do we have somewhat lush forests or colorful fall Asian backgrounds; instead we’re presented with dirty, open landscapes equipped with one time of day: grey. Lighting hardly plays a role, but even fires during night gameplay should be able to spark some illumination. Instead they fall flat and are barely seen to display on the surroundings. Enemy troops outside of well-established officers are a clearly lower graphical quality than the rest of the game. Perhaps this is due to their vast numbers on the battlefield, but then shouldn’t we see more than approximately 50 characters render at once instead of pop in and out? Even the cutscenes are nothing to brag about. Where in many games animation and details can shine, DW8E cutscenes are left in the same quality as the gameplay, with clear lines and polygons visible and distracting. The saving grace is that not once during the onslaught of death brought on by my hands was I disappointed in the flow and feel of power from the weapons. Attacks are fluid and smooth, complete with exciting effects that display how different playable officers are from the normal troops. While some of the weapons are truly ridiculous (there’s a weapon called an “arm blade” that is literally a mini canoe), the feeling was immediately overridden by the visual power of using them. 

 DW8E Gameplay

Sound: 4/5

As in any DW game, DW8E contains the always interesting mash up of rock and classical Asian music. The best thing, is that it works time and time again. The soundtrack gives you the moral boost needed to charge headfirst into battle, or sit down and strongly contemplate who to strike an alliance with. Simple selection sound effects are bold and reverberate your choices, making you feel as though whatever you have just selected is the most important thing you’ll do all day. The voice actors are all original actors, meaning they’re speaking Chinese which is wonderful immersion, but I couldn’t easily find any option to revert to English – as has been present in most past games. The lack of an ability to also turn off voices from the controller got obnoxious fast, as it also came out of the TV creating a strange sudo-echo. Yet again though, the sound of the weapons tearing through crowds of troops utterly defenseless against my battle fans or 11 foot sword created the immersion necessary to bring about a feeling of true power. 

 DW8E Gameplay 2

Overall Score: 15/20 = 7.5 out of 10 

DW8E brings a lot of new features to the table – most of which occur outside of what was the original gameplay. The story is different from past titles, yet the ability to make it personal creates a brand new desire to complete the campaign. While the graphics are nothing above last gen or even last-last gen in some circumstances, the fluidity and emersion of the other factors won’t pull you out of rage mode and hitting that 2,000 troops killed mark! Thankfully, the original gameplay has stayed true, allowing you to become a one-general army and in the end, is all you could want from a Dynasty Warriors game. 

Pros:

+ Impressive and addictive strategy driven campaign mode
+ SO MANY unique characters to choose from
+ One-person powerhouse of death

Cons:

– Graphics from the PlayStation 2 in cases
– Small text in a text driven campaign
– Controller sensitivity

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires! Copy reviewed on PS4.

Enjoy our review? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @GamersXTREME for the latest in gaming news and reviews.

Curious to how our review system works? Check out the About section.

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate Review (3DS) – “The Hunt Returns in a New Dimension”

MH4U Wallpaper

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (MH4U) is the 12th installment into the series, but the 7th that we’ve seen in the states, and only the 3rd that we’ve seen on a Nintendo platform. It’s had raging success overseas, but hasn’t shone much in the past few years. A new marketing plan, some overhauls and new ideas seem to have put it in the spotlight along with the New 3DS XL; but does it live up to the hype? Or does it get trapped in its own pitfall…trap?

Gameplay: 4/5

Monster Hunter is infamous for its grind-heavy gameplay nature…not so much for its story. In fact, this is really the first MH game to attempt a story and somewhat succeed. Past titles have simply thrown you into a town with the “it’s you’re duty to protect this village” cliché. MH4U starts off with some pretty enticing cutscenes to introduce the village you’ll be spending a lot of your time at. We’re introduced to who will be essentially our guide – a rugged adventurer who is pretty much the epitome of a role model in this world. He states (through text mind you, though mumblings are spoken but the only form of communication is through text) that something is happening and they need to get to the bottom of it. With his newest recruit (you), he decided you’d be the best to venture into the wild – untrained – and ascertain information about the impending doom of monsters overruling the village.

The story starts out somewhat slow, which is nice. It gives you a chance to explore a little bit of everything in the mechanics before pulling you in too strong. But as you complete more quests, the story slowly begins to pick up. In traditional fashion, one solution leads to another problem’s discovery, and before you know it, you’re slaying just about anything you can find in a ‘monstrocidal’ rampage fashion. Essentially, there is a wild virus that is going around making all of the monsters crazy. Not terribly long after you get the hang of the game, you’re forced up against the foe making all of this happen. It might have been a little rushed to pit you up against a monster of that caliber so soon, but this really is a game that you can move at your own pace with. You find that even after killing that monster, something still isn’t quite right. Many other monsters are being noticed when they shouldn’t be and it’s your duty to discover why…and that’s pretty much what you’ll be doing for about 90% of the story. Miscellaneous quests will become available with some small dialogue that attempts to make it seem like killing this monster in particular will lead us to the next. Like a bad game of Clue, you just need to push to the end to reveal the secrets behind this children’s “mystery”. Successful completion of the story nets you a bunch of village upgrades and unlocks a ton of content though. So while it is necessary, it feels like they may have forced it a bit too much – much like the childish jokes and comedy rampant throughout the game that simply distract the player rather than add anything to the value of the dialogue. Once the story is completed though, there really isn’t anything left as far as a structured outline. You’ll partake in a plethora of different quests, both offline and online, and it begins to feel like monster hunter all over again.

MH4U Gameplay 2

Grinding has always been a major part of the Monster Hunter series; and it’s no different in MH4U. If you’re against grinding, then you’ll want to stay away – but really, MH has a way of making it feel like it’s not even grinding at all. There are hundreds of quests in 4U that pit you against 70 different large monsters and a handful of smaller ones. The premise is simple: you defeat a monster, use what you earned from it to make better equipment, and repeat the process until you’re satisfied (spoiler: many of the people who play these games are never satisfied). In order to complete this task, you’re given 14 different weapons, an all-time maximum! You can choose to take on monsters alone or with a group of 3 others, and considering the difficulty doesn’t scale to the number of players, having more only makes things easier. [It needs to be mentioned here that this is the only MH game I have ever had difficulty playing online with others – not due to connectivity but due to greed. With so many people “needing” different things, most won’t help unless it’s what they need – an issue I haven’t encountered as being this pervasive before. Nonetheless that doesn’t take away from the score.]

Considering there are 14 completely different weapon classes, and 70 main monsters… there’s a lot of gear to make! So understandably there’s a lot of hours that can be put into the game, making the replay value shoot through the roof. Monsters are programmed to know where you’re at and exactly how they can combo you into fainting if you’re not careful. Three faints in a quest and you fail so you really need to learn the monster’s attacks and how to avoid them. In many respects, this is one of the most skill-based games on the market meaning that no matter how much time you put into it, you can always improve, adding additional challenge and an overwhelming feeling of success after every hunt.

MH4U Gameplay 3

A few new mechanics have been added to hunts as well, further expanding on the knowledge and strategy needed to successfully pull off a quick quest. Mounting is by far the most prevalent of the additions. MH4U takes the fight to the third dimension by allowing verticality within the levels. You can climb and jump off of ledges and cliffs and attack midair. Successful attacks on a monster will cause you to enter a “mini-game” where if you complete it, the monster falls over for a extended period of time, completely open to attacks for the duration. At first, I was skeptical of this mechanism, but over time I came to realize it is well balanced and pivotal in controlling the moral of certain fights. (Also, for those veterans, this solves the issue of upswinging).

They’ve also added a plethora of new skills to the game. Skills are unlockable abilities that come with certain armor pieces. Combine enough of the right pieces and skill points and you’ll unlock the ability. The new skills either contain a very special ability, like consuming an item only to have your stock count remain the same; or a combination of skills bundled into one. Considering skills are one of the most important parts of the game, these can really push the odds in your favor.

One of the more robust changes to the game are expeditions. These are ‘free hunts’ that set you out into a procedural (never the same) forest where you encounter a variety of different items and monsters. While this does add a new dimension to the game, it feels like it does more harm than good. Many of the large monsters included in the 70 are actually hidden behind this expedition wall. In order to unlock them, you must go on an expedition and encounter a different monster. Killing it, or giving evidence of its discovery, will offer a small chance that you will unlock a guild quest. Guild quests can be stored (up to 50) or registered (up to 10). Registered guild quests can be posted in the guild hall like any other quest, with one catch. Every time you complete it, it levels up. You can level it all the way from low rank to high rank and then to G rank. The issue is that this drastically limits the number of monsters available to most people as personally it took a few days of extended play for me to acquire a guild quest for one monster. Once I had that monster, it wasn’t long before I had leveled it up and it was no longer useful to me (needing low rank parts and it had leveled to high rank), meaning that I had to grind expeditions again. There is no indication as to what monsters found in expeditions will give rise to certain guild quests, so you’re pretty much just guessing out there.

MH4U Gameplay 4

Expeditions also yield armors and weapons that have their own upgrade paths outside of the traditional means. Many of these armors contain skills not available outside of expeditions (or in rare quantities), and therefore can be useful in armor sets. With the exception that drops are completely random and often armors are lacking in many other qualities, these could theoretically be used, though they truly seem to be a wasted effort in such a coordinated pre-established system. The weapons on the other hand are a different story. Much like the armor you can discover, you can also find misc. weapons on expeditions. These weapons also have set stats, but unlike their normal counterparts made from the smithy, they’re stats can vary wildly. Essentially this equates to a random number generator (RNG) process where you may end up with an incredible weapon, or something utterly useless. Monster Hunter has always been known for its ability to stick to a straight statistical format, rewarding those who put forth the effort to overcome the odds of accumulating rare items. This new process appears to thwart this system by offering high reward for simply being lucky (much like the talisman system already in place). While it is entirely up to each individual if this is desirable or not, it stands that it is breaking away from the traditional Monster Hunter formula.

All things considered this is a Monster Hunter game, and it definitely plays like one. The addition of the third dimension blends extremely well with the hunting system and there’s more equipment than you could ever imagine. If you’re a fan of collecting gear and working for it, then you’ll be right at home.

MH4U Gameplay 1

Graphics: 3/5

Considering this is my first 3DS review (as well as first 3DS game), I really don’t have a lot to compare to personally. However, I’m no stranger to watching playthroughs or other gameplay videos of 3DS games so I have certain expectations. In all honesty, I was somewhat impressed at the start of the game. The graphics in the cutscenes were vibrant, full bodied and detailed, leaving very little to desire for. However, instantly upon seeing actual gameplay, I began to cringe as it looked nothing like I was anticipating. Environmental textures are flat and near-dimensionless, which really makes you feel as though you’re playing something from the early 2000’s. I was even more upset when it looked as though the armors and weapons didn’t stand out from the environments like they have in past titles (see MHP3 HD). Considering they are the crux of the entire game, I would have thought some more effort would have been put into making the gear you create more visually nourishing. While they are certainly detailed and in their own right, impressive and cool looking, there is nothing about their graphical quality that alleviates the disappointment of a world constructed on pixels. Luckily, monsters seem to be somewhat of an exception here. While they definitely do not stand out as better quality, many of the monsters you fight appear to be much smoother – getting away from the rigidity of the square infestation that is the overwhelming pixel ratio.

God forbid you ever try to play in 3D, the already unimpressive graphics take a drastic plummet, giving both me and my friend headaches within 10 minutes of use.  In such a fast paced game, it truly doesn’t make a lot of sense; as with the 3D turned all the way up frame rate begins to stutter from time to time, really taking you out of the experience. While visually the game leaves a lot to be desired, it should be pointed out that the game is still lively and vivacious, making the poor quality easier to forget when you’re enjoying the warm palette of the volcano, or the bitter scheme of the frozen tundra. In the end, it seems as though the game is limited by its console; it tries exceptionally well to bring a lot of detail, color and crisp visuals, but instead falls short and the graphical conflicts are brought out twice fold.

MH4U Gameplay 5

Sound: 4/5

Monster Hunter has always been known for its ability to encapsulate the feeling of the game perfectly in its soundtrack. Unfortunately, it has managed to miss its mark a little bit in this entry. While many of the quests are paired with great music counterparts (mostly taken from past games and reapplied), the villages and guild halls have been paired with songs that tend to make you feel as though you’re at the carnival, rather than a smoky tavern filled with life-risking bad asses (and your overly occasional 12 year old). Perhaps the developers were trying to go for more of a contrast between on and off a quest, playing on the light-hearted nature of the scenery; but it just doesn’t seem to quite fit. Nonetheless, the monster’s roars, the sound effects of hurling your friend high into the air while simultaneously tripping a monster with your elemental great sword are spot on and immersive. I cannot recommend enough that you use a decent headset while playing this as all of the sound effects in a hunt get brought out marvelously. So while the majority of the sounds in the game are adrenaline-inducing, there are a few times when you’re painfully reminded that you’re not a small child standing in line for a cotton candy at the nearest amusement park. [And as a side note for all of the MH veterans, the main, epic, incredible MH theme song does not appear in the game until the third song in the credits]

MH4U Gameplay 6

Replay Value: 5/5

While the expedition quests don’t make a lot of sense when trying to acquire new armor and weapons, it does add one element to the game: replay value. The random assortment of monsters that can be combined in a guild quest acquired from an expedition feels limitless. This addition, combined with the built-in online, makes for a truly unique experience. Any hunters can post a guild quest and work with others to level it up; this means that beyond the hundreds of other quests in the game, you now have an entirely new, ever-changing repertoire of quests to undergo. Happen to enjoy a particular quest? Then ask that friend to share it. Anyone can send you any guild quest they’ve acquired and you’ll receive it at the base level it was discovered at. Since you can store 50 at one time, you can really build up some fun and exciting hunts!

Beyond expeditions there are well over thousands of weapons and armors to make, meaning you’ll need to do quite a bit of hunting of every monster in the game, but it’s all worth it for that shiny new sword! There are also challenge quests that pit you and a single friend against certain tough monsters – the catch? You have to use the equipment they provide! Completing all of these unlocks something special of course, so it’s definitely worth your time! With challenging gameplay that never fails to put your skills to the test you can sink hundreds of hours into the game.

MH4U Gameplay 7

Samus joins the hunt…

 Overall Score: 16/20 = 8.0 out of 10

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate holds true to the series’ pre-established grind/reward system, offering players an impressive array of equipment if they put in the time. While a number of new additions work very well, there seems to be the beginning of a shift from a statistical system to a random number system, contrary to nearly every past game. The graphics leave a lot to be desired and 3D should never be used, but the sounds are immersive and boastful. If you’re a fan or the series, or enjoy collecting an extreme plethora of different, powerful, and unique equipment, then you should definitely pick it up! Don’t let the score fool you, the core gameplay is sound and enjoyable and yields to an incredibly impressive replay value.

 

Pros:

+Gameplay is fluid and reliably the same as past titles

+Extremely large replay value

+Insane amounts of creative equipment to make

+More weapon classes than ever before

Cons:

-Story is a good attempt, but feels forced and drawn out

-Graphics draw away from the experience and 3D is abused

-Some childish moments clash with the blood spewing gameplay

-Some establishment of RNG takes away from theme of putting in time and effort to get reward


Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate was purchased by the reviewer and tested for the New 3DS XL system.

Enjoy our review? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @GamersXTREME for the latest in gaming news and reviews.

Curious to how our review system works? Check out the About section.

Deception IV: Blood Ties Review (PS3/Vita): “The reason we have the ESRB”

Deception IV Cover

Have you ever gone through a game and thought to yourself: “Man, the bad guys are always overpowered. Where’s my amazing abilities and cheap combos?” Well wonder no more. Deception IV places you on the other side of the story, as in, the ‘oh so good to be bad’ side! Utilizing an incredible arsenal of various traps used to surprise, torment, combo, torture and ultimately finish off your enemies, you may have to adjust to the feeling of being… evil. Do you have the stomach for it?

Story: 2/5

You play as Laegrinna, a seemingly innocent looking, adorable and calm mannered girl… who is also the daughter of the devil. Together with your three daemon “witches”, you have set out to claim 12 magical verses inscribed on slabs that bind your father (the devil) in the afterlife, keeping him from reigning over the world. By recovering all of the verses, held by descendants of the virtuous and holy who bound the devil, Laegrinna will be able to undo the imprisonment and give the earth back to the most powerful and “deserving”.

Deception IV Gameplay 3

Deception IV never really goes into detail about why Laegrinna is trying to bring back her father. Other than being evil, and taking over the world is what evil people do, you primarily have to just go with it. Some repetitive dialogue cutscenes detail the game’s 12 chapters as you progress from one location to the next, collecting verses off of fallen bosses. Again, while there is really no explanation given (or needed), the owners of the verses seem to be attracted to the other verses, allowing you to basically sit and wait for the next hot shot to come in seeking glory for slaying the “witch”.

Deception IV never really builds a decent climax, or shrinks down to a low, it’s a pretty steady paced game without a real enticing plot line. In fact, the one recurring sequence of mystery potentially holding an exciting twist or story development is completely forgotten and never given any substance, making the completion of the story seem merely inconsequential. To be honest, if this is what it’s like to progress as the bad guy, I’d rather be a henchman without a name tag, but at least a life outside of taking over the world.

Nonetheless, I have to give credit for taking everything we have come to know as a “noble quest” and completely flipping it on its side. Being evil throughout the story actually did make me feel less empathetic towards my enemies and more focused on the end goal, by any means necessary. While I definitely can’t say I was engrossed in the story, I will admit that the progression pace and dialogue from time to time did enhance the gameplay slightly.

Deception IV Gameplay 1

Gameplay: 5/5

​What’s interesting about Deception IV is that you don’t play as some all-powerful character able to cruise their way through to the end based on self-growth alone; you need the demonic help of three “witches” – or daemons. Caelea, the daemon of elaborate death, Veruza, the daemon of sadistic torment, and Lilia, the daemon of humiliating demise, aid in your retrieval of the verses as well as most of the dialogue in the game. In fact, you have almost no powers, other than to call on the powers of your daemons. Laegrinna is actually very weak and she cannot fight. Instead, she uses carefully placed traps to ensnare victims and rob them of their lives. Each location is set up like a grid, with each square being a spot you can place certain traps. There are three types of traps: wall, ceiling and floor – being that each type of trap will appear from one of those locations. Your three daemons dictate what each trap may be themed after. Elaborate traps have a specific inclination to link other traps together, creating large combos by which you can hurl enemies around, inflicting more and more damage as more traps are used. Sadistic traps are used predominately to inflict damage. They work very well to get past defenses as well as catch an enemy off guard. Humiliation traps however are merely meant to amuse. While they are sort of in between the other two types, they really have a knack for bringing the funny out in death (picture a giant yo-yo crushing someone).

Deception IV Gameplay 5

​You start off with only a handful of traps to use. However, as you progress, earning more elaborate, sadistic or humiliation points, you can buy new traps with a never explained currency called “warl”. The different traps appear to be never ending, constantly adding new possibilities to torture and kill enemies. While some appear to be similar, they often hold different qualities which can affect enemies in different ways. There are a handful of different categories of traps as well. While wall, ceiling and floor dictate how the trap will appear and can be placed, there are subcategories that give reason as to how the trap functions and affects enemies. For example, there are fire traps which burns enemies, enrage traps that cause the enemy to forgo their inclination to avoid harm’s way, as well as crushing, freeze, electric, piercing (etc) traps. Utilizing different types of traps is the key to defeating different enemies.

The enemies in Deception IV are all given personalities. Some are knights, assassins, brawlers and even regular townspeople, and each are given a backstory which may help in determining their weaknesses, as well as how they will perform on the battlefield. For example, many townspeople will run when they get hurt, while knights will chase you down even if they are an inch within death. Also, some enemies wear armor or hold particular abilities which may disable the use of different types of traps against them. Some enemies can jump over obstacles, sense traps or even heal themselves and others. All enemies learn where traps have been placed as well as try their very best to kill you, so when you’re pitted against up to three enemies, you need to be wise about who to attack first.

Deception IV Gameplay 4

​As stated before, pairing different types of traps against enemies in a combo is the key to success (and by success, I mean mercilessly killing them without a second’s thought). Some enemies will be resistant or invulnerable to different types of traps. Resistant to a trap means that type of trap (electric/crushing/blinding) will not affect them if used first in a combo. However, link it after the enemy has been taken by a different trap and you can use it against them. Invulnerable however means that no matter how much you try, you cannot use that type of trap against them – so stock up on traps wisely! Enemies wearing armor will also take less damage from traps, so breaking it is essential. You can do this by carefully performing a trap combo, including the enemy’s weakness in the chain, then launching them into the air. The trick is that you never really know the enemy’s weakness. Many can be determined from the character’s brief backstory, but most of the time you’re left to a trial-and-error scenario.

​Overall, the pure strategy needed to defeat even the most menial enemies is extremely satisfying, but when a boss is thrown into the mix, you really need to plan out your attacks carefully. The surprising thing about Deception IV is that even though the strategy is fundamentally the same for each enemy, and you may utilize the same trap sequence over and over again, I never got tired of it. Location is an important element in the game, as traps are placed in a grid lock formation and enemies obviously do not move square-by-square, so getting a large trap combo to successfully land is extremely rewarding. Timing as well as knowledge of how your enemy will progress are both very important; and therefore you truly feel as though you are meticulously planning each individual’s demise, giving off the feeling of being a higher entity than those who oppose you. Nonetheless, boss fights and multiple enemies coming for your head provide an excruciating challenge and should not be taken lightly. Proper preparation and careful planning are wildly rewarded.

Deception IV Gameplay 2

​As you progress through the story, you will encounter different challenges provided by your daemons, rewarding you with appropriate point boosts to each particular theme (elaborate/sadistic/humiliation). These often include utilizing arena specific traps. Traps that are placed within the arena offer type boosts as well as continued combo potential. There are also larger traps in arenas dubbed “trap-mobiles”. These mobile traps require high levels of strategy to engage but reward you with large point and damage boosts, as well as a special quicktime event if you kill an enemy with them! Completing these challenges in story missions give you large boosts in character progression, which is beneficial toward unlocking new traps. However, if you would like another opportunity to earn new traps, there are other game modes. Missions give specific qualifications that need to be met for completion, and free battle allows you to set the goals. While only missions give the currency (warl) to buy new traps, free battle gives the opportunity to create, share, and download other’s challenges. As a whole, there is plenty of game to experience, especially as the strategy incorporated into the game makes the story chapters and missions take much longer than anticipated, without any loss to enjoyment. There is just something about brutally torturing a righteous soul beyond that of forgiveness that makes you candidly understand what it is like to be evil.

Deception IV Gameplay 8

Graphics: 3/5

​Most of the locations in Deception IV are dark and dismal arenas of death (as fitting to the nature of the game), therefore there really isn’t any room for a “wow factor”. Light effects are near non-existent, even when flickering torches light a hallway and character repetition, as well as pixilation, can be faintly distracting at the start of the game. While textures do add depth and feel to the game, the real quality is in the traps. Each trap is beautifully rendered when in comparison to the rest of the game, and since this is what you’re mostly focusing on during gameplay, you will hardly have time to notice the under-equipped details in the environments. A thrilling zoom follow feature allows you to lock-on to enemies to get a close-up angle to the action, letting you follow their horrendously painful demise. You can also use this feature to plan the start of a combo, or anticipate attacks from afar. On the PS3 version of Deception IV, you can also record and upload to YouTube the combo sequences from this perspective!

The primary drawback in Deception IV are that cutscenes are merely dialogue events, showcasing protagonists and antagonists as cutout characters with text underneath. This never gives the game an opportunity to go beyond the quality found in the gameplay. However, as stated, the trap effects and textures supersede the rest of the game and allow to you forget the weaker portions of the graphical quality.

Deception IV Gameplay 6

Sound: 4/5

​The eeriness of a deserted castle or the playful terror of an old amusement park are captured wonderfully by the soundtrack in Deception IV; and more importantly do not interfere with the intense calculations needed to strategically plan an attack on an unsuspecting enemy. The reactions to the torment of said attack are a different story however. The screams of agony from enemies as they’re ripped to shreds by a descending saw blade tend to get slightly annoying. That’s not just the removal of all empathy the game has installed in me taking over, the enemy’s voices can be really annoying. Most of the voices from enemies are reused and therefore get old pretty quickly, but then again how many different types of screams do you want? Luckily, you can turn down voice sound effects if you find the repetitive sounds of anguish too much to endure. While main character’s voices are clearly different and seemingly fitting to their composure, you will have to deal with everything being in Japanese.

Again, the traps take the glory here as each sound effect adds real weight and life to the effects of the torture inflicted upon your enemy. The real benefit to these sound effects is the ability to utilize them in completing combos. More often than not, I found myself overwhelmed with enemies, therefore not able to zoom and lock-on to an enemy to correctly time a combo. By listening to the trap effects, I was able to tell when one had finished and when to start another, thus prolonging my combo and allowing me to finish off an enemy easier. The enemy’s screams were also a very distinct indication of when a trap had successfully struck, giving more success to the strategy and careful attention to detail necessary to finish off an enemy. After some getting used to the game, I found the sound effects were mostly well balanced, but you can tweak them generally to fit your preferences.

Deception IV Gameplay 7

Overall Score: 14/20 = 7.0 out of 10
Coming in completely blind to the series, I had no clue what I was getting myself into. While playing as the bad guy (erm… girl) set me off guard for a minute, I quickly found it an enjoyable change of pace. Gameplay is extremely addictive and unlocking new traps is exceedingly enticing, only to be overshadowed by the pure ecstasy of landing a devastating trap combo. While the graphical quality isn’t distracting, I felt it could have been improved, especially considering the lack of resources necessary for the cutscenes. The sound effects were substantial for traps, but tended to get repetitive for characters, even if it helped to understand where they were at in my cycle of death. Quickly into the game, I became enthralled with tormenting my adversaries, and that feeling never seemed to subside. If you don’t mind being a part of the statistic that shows why we clearly need the ESRB, I would highly recommend picking this game up.

Pros:
+ Wonderful strategy element
+ A plethora of traps to choose from
+ Zoom and lock on feature clever and useful
+ Challenge level provoking and rewarding
+ Being evil is fun!

Cons:
– ‘Cutscenes’ were merely dialogue
– Weak story element
– Screams got annoying
– Environment quality inconsistent with the features of the game

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Deception IV: Blood Ties! Copy reviewed on both PS3 & PS Vita.

Enjoy our review? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @GamersXTREME for the latest in gaming news and reviews.

Curious to how our review system works? Check out the About section.

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE Review (PS3/Vita): “Not the Improvement You’re Looking For”

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE Wallpaper

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE is an expansion off of the already released Ragnarok Odyssey, a high flying, cartoon-ish hunting game. It takes the original gameplay and story, adds a few new tricks and improvements, as well as some rather menacing looking monsters and throws it back in your hands for another chance to save the kingdom. Does ACE fill the gaps that the last one left behind? Or do its changes add a new layer of complexity too confusing to stand on its own?

Story: 2/5

Ace’s story is the same as the past title, Ragnarok Odyssey. Basically, you’re a new knight recruit who’s stationed at the rear defense of a kingdom – a very important location. Your sole job is to make sure the front lines don’t need to worry about their backs. How do you do this? Kill everything. When it’s that simple, there really isn’t a huge need for a story, but Ragnarok Odyssey tries one anyway. You’ll find yourself being presented with a quasi-mystery as to why certain monsters are attacking, where they’re coming from, and how to stop them. A bombardment of caddy jokes, humungous text and a plethora of seemingly unnecessary dialogue help fill the downtime between quests; but to be completely honest, none of it serves any further purpose than a time filler. All you need to know are the basics: something is attacking, we need to kill it. Sadly, that’s about as in-depth as the game even reasons with the events that take place. While I did appreciate some of the categorizing of the enemies the story did, which made it seem like we really were fighting a war against an organized army of monsters, as well as the locations which tied nicely into how the story progressed, there wasn’t much for me to really grab a hold of. In the end, I wanted nothing more than to skip all the dialogue and just get back to killing things.

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE Gameplay 1

Gameplay: 3/5

Thankfully for the story’s sake, the gameplay is where the true enjoyment of the game lies. ACE progresses with a nicely paced tutorial that gives you freedom to figure things out on your own, but holds enough of the new expansion content to deliver out in doses. If you’ve played Ragnarok Odyssey before, you’ll be instantly familiar with how the game works. You have 6 classes to choose from, each with a specific weapon and abilities. Attacks are initiated in a 2-button combo manner, one button initiates a normal attack pattern and another will deviate that pattern to an alternate path to execute a special attack. Ragnarok Odyssey takes it a step further and adds vertical plane attacks to the mix, allowing you to jump into the air to carry out a full combo however you choose. However, if you’ve played Ragnarok Odyssey before, you’ll also notice a few attacks are missing from each class. That’s because certain abilities or attacks got removed to accommodate the new ACE skills. These are essentially MMO-like abilities mapped to a button combination or touch screen location. While progressing through the story, you will unlock different skills for each class that you can purchase, equip (up to 4) and use at the cost of some stamina. It’s a small disappointment that certain abilities had to be cut out from the normal attack patterns to make room for the skills, but the extra unlockable skills are definitely strong and fun enough to make the process worth it. This also creates a larger presence of the class system, forcing you to really pay attention to what role you want to play when going out on a hunt… if only there were more than 2 roles. Unless you play as a cleric, you’re going to be strictly on the offensive. While the skills for each class appear to create more of a specialized teamwork effect, they’re really just creating more ways to deal damage, something that is great but could really use some attention in a game focused on 4 player co-op. You’ll also need to be careful about these ACE skills as they consume a lot of stamina – something very valuable in the ever moving play style of Ragnarok Odyssey. Accidentally hit a button combination for an ACE skill and you’ll be stuck initiating an unrecoverable attack while draining your stamina. While there are a few button layout presets, none of them removed the combinations to activate ACE skills, even if the touch screen function works twice as well. In fact, the button layout that once was smooth with Ragnarok Odyssey has since been overloaded in ACE, requiring multiple “claw” configurations, as well as an inefficient and poorly executed lock-on feature. Word to the wise: using lock-on will mess with your camera angles and it should be avoided all together.

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE Gameplay 3

Although performing a few actions can feel a little “chunky” or out-of-place, the gameplay is enjoyable for the most part. While strategy gets lost almost completely as minions and boss enemies can juggle you like a circus act gone wrong, there is a handy berserk mode that allows you to dish out all the suffering that’s resulted from your frustration of the enemy’s clear advantage over your slow recoveries and easily flinch-able demeanor. This is mostly rectified by playing online, allowing the monsters to focus on someone else while you frantically try to recover, but for single player, this constant focus can be quite the challenge. Luckily in ACE, there’s a solution! For a nominal fee, you can hire AI controlled sand bags to act as allies in your hunts offline! They never really do anything other than die repeatedly (which doesn’t count against you), but they make great distractions.

Hunting games are all about the monsters. Defeating a monster, taking its parts to build something amazing to destroy the next, and repeating the process until you have a whole room of armor and weapons strung on the walls like trophies…unless you’ve taken a hunting game and turned it into a roulette easter egg hunt. One of the main things that bothered me about Ragnarok Odyssey was that you never really needed to farm a monster for its parts. Armor and weapon creation were easily done and really unnecessary as the weapons paled in comparison to what you could find off of enemies and armor simply did nothing for you. Most of that hasn’t changed in ACE, as armor merely adds slots for cards (I’ll get to that in a minute) and weapons you can craft always seem to be a chapter behind. It’s almost like the developers knew this as they attempted to implement a new weapon system into the game. “Halomonas” weapons are a new system that basically render every other weapon pointless. You can build up and evolve them by completing certain tasks, resulting in the weapon acquiring a new skill. Perform enough tasks and the weapon will evolve to a new weapon along its tree. Sadly, skills learned from completed tasks delete the old skill, but at least they’re insanely strong. You get your first Halomonas weapon for free towards the beginning of the story, and in all honesty, you can use that weapon and your first armor to complete the game no problem – that’s what I did.

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE Gameplay 2

Let’s get back to those cards for a minute though. While armors do nothing more than provide a cool look (seriously, some are awesome looking!), they do have one important role: holding cards. You can socket armors with different cards you acquire randomly by defeating monsters. These cards have a plethora of different skills that they contain, from stat boosts to skill-altering capabilities. This is where the true planning comes into play, as cards can make or break a battle. Many cards have a “give and take” effect where there may be consequences for the boost you gain. This really adds a highly appreciated level of strategy to how you prepare for a battle as you need to weigh the pros and cons of your loadout. Then again you could just farm a monster for a better card that doesn’t have any negatives.

In the end I found that monster farming was nearly pointless once I had a decent loadout. Without needing drops for weapons or armor, the game quickly lost its replayability. The sheer lack of variety in monsters also made me feel like I was just doing the exact same quests over and over again. Re-skins and extremely similar attack patterns across different monsters creates a very repetitive experience for the player, even with the new monster(s) loaded into the expansion. Thankfully though, there are plenty of quests to embark on if you’re a “completionist”, including both offline and online quests (with cross-platform online play with the PS3 version)! Teaming up with a group of four is definitely the way to play the game and immediately increases the amount you’ll enjoy the game. It’s a shame that the skills weren’t more expanded to accommodate better teamwork as it seemed to at the start of the game.

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE Gameplay 4

Graphics: 4/5

While many games try to create a darker image when living the life of a mercenary, Ragnarok Odyssey creates a vivid, near cartoonish experience. Colors pop and draw you into small details, while attack effects glow and shine rapidly to create a feeling of pure mysticism and fantasy. Armors and weapons are beautifully rendered and detailed, even in the middle of battle. The variation in locations ensures you won’t tire of seeing the same scenery, which is a definite must-have for large questing games. However, enter a room online with a full party and you’ll find all of those effects and details create a major issue with the frame rate. Even offline playing solo, certain boss attacks would quickly deplete the game’s power resulting in a choppy experience and usually my character being attacked (then juggled and killed).

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE Gameplay 5

Sound: 4/5

Like most fantasy games, the music is uplifting and enticing, creating a positive atmosphere for a productive day of slaughtering monsters. Weapon attacks have a real weight to them when backed by such impactful sound effects, really adding to the fights. Ragnarok Odyssey also does a very bold move and allows you to choose your own background music. Purchasable at the item shop in the town, you can select from a large number of tracks to play in the background as you hunt. Even online, the host is allowed to select the music for everyone to hear, which can really create some powerful and unique experiences! While some effects are reused across completely different monsters, the rest of the game is a pure delight to play with a pair of nice headphones, really giving homage to the vast array of music at your disposal.

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE Gameplay 6

Overall Score: 13/20 = 6.5 out of 10

Ragnarok Odyssey ACE takes a hunting game previously set in its ways and attempts to uproot it to be something else. The entire time, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this should be made into an MMO. The new skills and Halomonas weapon system gave insight to something that really holds potential and even though different armors proved are mostly pointless, they are awesome looking! A few small, but drastic improvements such as item recycling and the ability to change loadouts, upgrade weapons and armors all within the online hall were welcomed with open arms; but in the end, the game still has the same issues it has had in the previous installment: too few different monsters and a system almost entirely based on random luck for improvement (weapon and card drops). The drops almost seemed more infrequent than the past entry and the inability to improve your character how you see fit (with the partial exception to Halomonas weapons) is a major replay killer. With strategy severely lacking, there isn’t much holding this game together from a gameplay perspective, but if you can tough it out, you’ll be rewarded with a wonderful soundtrack and some gorgeous visuals to treat that fantasy addiction.

Pros:

+ Nice visual details

+ Selecting your own background music creates the right mood

+ Card system has plenty of options for character improvement

Cons:

– Lack of different monsters, weapons and armors

– New skill & weapon system were a major disappointment (but has great potential)

– Any size enemy can juggle you

– Small strategy involved in a co-op themed game

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Ragnarok Odyssey ACE! Copy reviewed on PS Vita.

Enjoy our review? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @GamersXTREME for the latest in gaming news and reviews.

Curious to how our review system works? Check out the About section.

inFamous Second Son Review (PS4): “A Next-Gen Masterpiece”

inFamous Second Son Wallpaper

inFamous Second Son is the third installment in the inFamous series. Unlike most superpower games, you don’t play as the traditional superhero. A once normal human being, you play as Delsin Rowe, new to the whole “conduit powers thing”. You can choose to take the path of righteousness, giving a good name to all conduits and gifted alike; or you can choose to abuse your powers, reign hell upon the city you inhabit and strike fear into the hearts of civilians. Do you have what it takes to handle the responsibility that comes with superpowers? Does inFamous Second Son have what it takes to be the superpower behind the PS4’s game lineup?

Story: 5/5

InFamous Second Son takes place 7 years after the events of inFamous 2. Cole MacGrath is no longer in the picture and instead you take control of Delsin Rowe, a vigilante troublemaker who’s got a good heart and a lot of spray paint. Delsin, with his cop brother Reggie, belong to the Akomish tribe living on the outskirts of Seattle. The world is well aware of conduits, or “bio-terrorists”, after the events that occurred in inFamous 1 & 2, and they are not exactly welcome anymore. A special government division called the Department of Unified Protection (or DUP) runs a campaign against conduits, rounding them up like prisoners so that the rest of the world can live in harmony and safety. A special convoy carrying three highly dangerous conduits is driving through the Akomish territory, only a quick opportunity quickly finds the vehicle relieved of its inhabitants in a terrible crash. Viewing the accident, Delsin and Reggie quickly run to help, not knowing the danger that awaits them; and when Delsin gets too close to one of the trapped prisoners, he gets more than he intended. Coming into contact with one of the prisoners, Delsin seems to absorb his superpower, transforming him into something the whole world feared.

With a new arsenal of tricks, Delsin realizes he just gained a huge target on his head and aims to hunt down the prisoner to get him to undo the transformation. Before Delsin can get any useful information out of him however, the DUP arrives. Augustine, the head of the DUP quickly apprehends the prisoner and begins questioning Delsin over how he got so close to him and what he might have told him. When Delsin refuses to co-operate, he is quickly taken down a notch and immobilized. With no way to fight back, and without any credible information to satisfy Augustine, she turns her efforts towards the tribe, torturing every person for answers that may not even exist until she is satisfied.

inFamous Second Son Gameplay 1

When Delsin learns of Augustine’s tyranny, he vows revenge and the turn of his people to good health. Together with Reggie, he sets out to learn how to use his powers and build his arsenal even more until he can rectify everything that’s happened.

Second Son has a certain realism about it that truly pulls you in and makes you believe everything could actually happen. Conduits are not normal, and therefore not accepted, even Delsin knows and realizes this in his struggle to control his abilities. The entire time you never take your powers for granted, constantly being reminded that whatever it is you’re doing – it’s awesome – something not often focused on in many “superhero” games.

Returning in Second Son is inFamous’ karma system; a system that rewards you for performing either good or evil deeds. This branches so far as to tie its way directly and majorly into the main story line. You’ll have multiple opportunities to drastically alter the way the game ends, truly adding to the experience of making the game how you want to play it (not to mention replay value). With each event, you really get sucked into the feeling of “what I do matters”, allowing you to easily get emotionally involved into the story.

These small, yet consequential aspects really bring the story to life. Throughout the entire game, you will meet new people and develop relationships that you can grow or separate with, depending on how you choose to play. With the addition of having a truly down-to-earth evil antagonist, Second Son really hits the mark on delivering a story you will remember and yearn to complete. Even after one playthrough, you’ll immediately want to go back and find out what happens if you decide to play the other way.

inFamous Second Son Gameplay 2

Gameplay: 5/5

Second Son utilizes previously installed gameplay mechanics from its predecessors. You have powers that evolve based upon your karma to become more deadly and effective. Alongside of a ranged attack, you also have melee, a special ability and some different ways of getting around (who walks anymore?). However, whereas before you would play the entire game to acquire all the different types of abilities, you’re now given each ability basically as soon as you earn the power. At first, this feels a little cheap, like the game is spoon feeding you. However, as you progress through the story, you find that there is a lot withheld from you, and each newly gained power changes the way in which you play – just when you get used to a certain style, you’re given more options and suddenly you’re right back into learning and more excitement!

Enemies seem to have a certain intelligence about them. Take on a group and they’ll fight relentlessly, but get one alone and he’d rather put down his weapon and surrender. There are different rankings of enemies, from standard minions, to elites, to (of course) boss fights. Each has their worth and will make you strategize before you jump (or comet drop) right in. Even though you have super powers, you’re not invincible, something you’ll be reminded of repeatedly on expert mode.

inFamous Second Son Gameplay 3

Besides the normal missions that pit you against waves of enemies, have you tracking a cell phone, or investigating a crime scene, there are a few side missions you can do throughout the mid-sized map of Seattle. Labelled on the mini-map, these vary from an extremely clever and enjoyable spray painting session to tracking bonus story audio files. Most of these are also karmic actions that will help you progress your powers, adding even more value to their worth. Speaking of spray painting sessions, the mechanic is brilliantly utilized. You’ll hold the DualShock 4 vertically and shake the controller as if it were the spray can, then press down the R2 button to spray away while using the motion sensor to aim the cursor. Also on the mini-map are blast shards, which are basically the in-game currency required to “buy” an upgrade. Past installments have had you racing all over the large map searching for any hidden location the blast shards could be held. In Second Son however, they’re all displayed nicely for you on the map, just so long as you can infiltrate a DUP stronghold, clear it of all enemies and destroy the tank-sized recon station in the middle of the district. You’ll not only earn a respawn point, but all the locations of the blast shards and side missions in the area.

While it would have been nice to have a bit more variety in the capabilities of each specific power as seen in past inFamous games, the end game result of owning multiple powers and how they are utilized is enough to make you feel like a god amongst ants.

inFamous Second Son Gameplay 5

Graphics: 5/5

inFamous Second Son sets the new benchmark for graphics on next-gen. From amazing sunsets, to incredible detail on buildings and uniforms, Second Son truly delivers on the wow factor. One of the things that sets games apart is how fluid they are; luckily Second Son stays consistent with its quality, offering the same beautiful images from gameplay to cutscenes, back to gameplay again. Some of the best facial expressions in any game can be seen here, which takes the emotional connection of the events to a whole new level. While fluid and normal body gestures and reactions remind you that these are actual people, you’ll consistently be stunned at how well the small things look. One of the most impressive aspects is the particle control throughout the game. Every time you absorb a power or attack, you get the glorious display of a million independent particles, without any loss to framerate or quality ever. While I had a small personal issue with the smoothness of some of the faces, I never once felt like I had played a game with better graphical quality.

inFamous Second Son Gameplay 4

Sound: 5/5

It’s been a while since I’ve played a game with such an upbeat soundtrack, I forgot what music could really do to you while you game. inFamous Second Son really embraces the idea that you’re playing in current day, as a sort of punk kid, and transcribes it into music to embrace the situations. Heavy guitar tracks and thick rock accompanies you destroying a group of DUP agents, and melodic and subtle rhythms help capture the ambiance of the city at night. Gunfire will easily direct you to where you’re being assaulted from, and the clever effects of different powers being utilized remind you that what you’re capable of is truly dangerous. Citizens will applaud or disdain you based upon your karma and you will react when necessary. However, the most impressive and immersive quality of the entire game that seems to know no bounds, wrapping its pervasive hands around you in an unfailing attempt to make you feel, is the voice acting. From the causal sly remarks and the sympathetic care of a brother, to the power driven revenge of a loved one, you will never forget that this game has people in it. Not characters, people.

inFamous Second Son Gameplay 6

Overall Score: 20/20 = 10 out of 10 

inFamous Second Son is the game we’ve been waiting for on next-gen. With amazing graphics, sound quality and a perfectly executed story, Sucker Punch has truly delivered. The platinum trophy won’t take you long to achieve, but you’ll enjoy every second of it. The immersion of the player into the game is hard to match and you’ll easily find yourself getting tied up in the addictive quest of becoming the strongest conduit that’s ever lived. You won’t need to have played the last 2 games to understand and enjoy this story, so this is a great time to get involved in the series.

Pros:

+ Voice acting is impeccable on all parts

+ Graphics remain top quality consistently without hindrance to game

+ Super powers are awesome and everyone knows it!

+ Story can essentially be what you make it

Cons:

– I wanted more to do after I spend ~25+ hours playing (luckily there’s DLC being released each week for 6 weeks)

inFamous Second Son was purchased by the reviewer and tested for the PlayStation 4 system.

Enjoy our review? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @GamersXTREME for the latest in gaming news and reviews.

Curious to how our review system works? Check out the About section.

Thief Review (PS4/X1): “Something lurks in the shadows, perhaps it should stay there”

Thief Wallpaper

Thief launches the series into a next-gen experience; adding to its quiver everything that goes along with a complete rejuvenation of a series: new graphics, a fresh story, clever designs and a whole new world to call your own. But just because something is new doesn’t always mean it’s better – does this new Thief properly pay tribute to the past entries in the ever popular series? Or should it just cower in the shadows, dwelling in the shame of being “just another game”?

Story: 1/5

Instead of reviving an old storyline from previous entries in the series, Eidos Montreal took a classic move and started from scratch; giving main character Garrett a new background with a new reason to be the master thief (as well as a killer new look). Thief takes place in a busy setting simply called “The City”: an almost middle-aged, steampunk, “we just discovered electricity” kind of place. This means that modern-day locks, contraptions and security systems haven’t been invented yet, which is all the better for us. It’s also around the time where sorcery and a hint of mysticism can viably make an appearance. For an agile spirit in both mind and body, this makes for a pretty attractive place to set up camp and reap the benefits of the ever abundant shadows.

At the start, the city is booming, meaning plenty of heists to pull off with a plethora of back alley deals going on. Garrett accepts a job working with an old student of his and you both head out to steal a valuable artifact. However, when things don’t seem quite right, Garrett has the smarts to turn away; but an overzealous “co-worker” thinks she has what it takes. A few miscalculations and an interruption or two and we wake up a year later with no idea what happened to her or what happened to our beloved City. What once was thriving with markets and healthy people has now descended into the depth of purgatory, with sick filling the streets and an overruling government squeezing the City into submission with a clenched fist.

Thief Gameplay 4

Garrett decides he needs to figure out what’s been going on for the past year and what happened that fateful night. What starts as a few simple inquisitory jobs evolves into something much deeper… and darker. Garrett soon finds out that he may be the only one with the ability to save the City he calls home.

Thief takes off with a pretty rough start. With what can only be described as a pre-rendered unsynced mess of a first cutscene, it’s pretty hard to get involved in the story. To be completely honest, every cutscene is this way, and to truly enjoy and take the story for what it is, you’ll need to distance yourself from the quality and focus on the hard facts. Sadly, that still won’t do you much good. While the story seems to make sense in the end, it relies on what I like to call “accept-a-scene’s”. These are events that take place without any previous or further explanation, forcing the player to just accept what has happened as practical and move on. While some games may have one or two of these events, Thief will have about one major event a chapter, really adding some suspicious loopholes to the story as well as incomplete connections, leaving you with a cheated feeling.

The story takes a few winding turns in an attempt to make it more interesting, but in the end with only one decent (though poorly followed through) twist, you won’t end up remembering much of what happened.

Thief Gameplay 1

Gameplay: 3/5

If you can get past the choppy cutscenes and poorly strewn together storyline, you can find a mildly addictive game to enjoy for a while. The City is a large arena filled with loot for you to steal. Sadly, many of the areas are patched together with loading screens, making the game feel unconnected and as choppy as the cutscenes. Luckily, none of the chapter missions will put you through this waiting period, allowing you to roam free and interact with the world as you like… well sort of. While the game originally boasted near-absolute freedom, you’re really quite limited. You have a clever arsenal of arrows at your disposal, but really only a handful of ways to use them. Wander through an area in a mission and you can clearly see how the developers wanted you to play it, which honestly makes you feel like some entity is watching you play, constantly forcing your hand to interact with the world the way it has intended you to.

Nevertheless, there is still a large amount of satisfaction in uncovering hidden passageways and alternate routes, and that’s really where the game earns its keep. Unlike many other stealth games, Garrett is not a force to be reckoned with. Facing one guard is challenging enough but when you’re pit against multiple enemies, your best bet is to run, hide, and survive. You have a small amount of self-defense, with the ability to dodge and weaken enemies enough to a finishing blow, but this takes time and will definitely cause attention! This is something that is highly appreciated, really capturing the feeling of being an actual thief, and it will make you play the game that much more skillfully. Utilizing no real powers or abilities other than a swoop action that dashes you forward a few meters, you’re left to use your wits.

Thief Gameplay 2

Different environments make sneaking around more difficult. For example: carpet will mask your footsteps, but be careful on wood, and God forbid you happen to step on any perfectly placed broken glass! This concept is strung about through the entire game as the AI is keenly aware of what happens around them. Sure, you can distract a guard with a broken bottle to make them wander over, but land that bottle too close and they’re on full alert, quickly searching every nook and cranny! Your only option is to stick to the over-protective shadows as much as possible. You can put out candles (when no one’s looking) or swoop across lighted areas to avoid detection, but you still need to be aware of everything that is going on in your surroundings. You may not have noticed the traps set up in that hallway, or the guard on patrol around the corner. It’s best to take it slow, using the incredibly smooth peak/lean function or utilizing your mystic focus ability to highlight objects of note. Sticking to your skills and being alert will allow you to cruise through the missions with ease; pulling off huge heists without anyone even knowing you’re there.

While story missions are long and well-thought out, it’s good to get some diversity in the game. That’s where miscellaneous jobs and client jobs come in. In between story missions, you can peruse the town in search of specific loot to steal. Most of the time this involves a drawn out and repetitive sequence to open a window and pick a lock with no threats around, but once in a while you will have to avoid a resident or guard. The real challenge is usually finding how to get to the said window, as the city can be a tempting puzzle. The client missions are a little different however. Locate the specific waypoint in the City and you’ll be ported to a small section to carry out your mission. These are a pleasant change of pace as the venues are small enough to tackle quickly, but complex enough to take your time and practice to perfection. It’s a shame there aren’t more of these as it would really add to the game’s replay value. Much like each story mission, there are collectibles to find, loot to steal and threats to avoid. At the end you’ll get a nice report screen detailing your actions and how you performed and what you should do to improve. These, combined with the story missions, will give you plenty of time playing to become the master thief. However, if that’s not enough for you, there is a challenge mode which puts you in a map (albeit a small number to choose from) and gives you new objects to steal. You can choose to alter how the game is played, possibly giving you more points when the job is completed, and then you can compare to your friends’ scores on the leaderboards. While these challenges will take some time to master, the real meat lies back within the City.

Thief Gameplay 6

Graphics: 4/5

It’s a rare occurrence when cutscenes are the weakest point of a game visually. However, Thief really showcases this conundrum well. Luckily, that means that the rest of the game looks stunning. During gameplay, you’ll constantly find yourself stopping to appreciate the textures and lighting effects, and how those light effects affect the textures and how the textures texturize the lighting effects! With a game almost entirely set at night, it’s an impressive feat that Eidos has been able to make the world stand out visually. Fog and visibility has been expertly created to make you feel like you truly can hide in the shadows, if only the same effort was put into the dreadful, yet somewhat infrequent game events.

Thief Gameplay 5

Sound: 4/5

Thief knows you need to concentrate, and that means silence. You won’t often notice music or background ambience unless it’s absolutely needed. One of the things Thief helps you with is knowing when you’re being spotted. An eerie atmosphere of voices will kick on when someone is contemplating if they see you or not, and music will drastically appear if they decide that you’re not actually a shadow. This allows to you focus on the environment as a whole when planning your next move. Realize that your footsteps aren’t so silent? Probably shouldn’t swoop then. Hear a guard walking around the corner? Maybe he’s sleeping quietly – best to peek and check it out. Thief also takes a new approach to sounds alerting threats by adding birds and dogs. Move too fast by a bird and they’ll act like an alarm. Dogs will smell and see you in the shadows so you need to consider your routes carefully! Sadly, not everything is balanced in the world. People talking will carry without drop off for a long distance! This truly creates a poor experience when you’re trying to sneak around a 3rd story building but you head the guards on the 1st floor by the gate as clear as day as if they were in the next room! Not to mention that in the City you’re constantly barraged by a mess of different people talking, it’s almost enough to make you want to sit through an unsynced audio session in the cutscenes!

Thief Gameplay 3

Overall Score: 12/20 = 6.0 out of 10

Overall, Thief is a rather unpolished attempt at a next-gen revitalization of a classic stealth game. Freedom isn’t truly free and while the in-game graphics will keep you mesmerized, the repetitive nature of the in-City jobs can feel like a chore after a short while. The City itself has some addictive puzzles and alternate paths if you can get past the loading screens, and the gameplay can be highly rewarding if you let yourself get into the mindset of a shadow-walker. However, in the end, if you’re looking for a stealth game, you should probably purchase Dishonored.

Pros:

+ Some pretty neat and clever paths in/out of missions

+ Awesome in-game graphics

+ Clever strategies to progressing in missions

Cons:

– CUTSCENES?!

– Loading screens all over the place

– Story is filled with “accept-a-scene’s”

– Same cool paths feel like you’re simply being guided

– Repetitive nature of out of mission heists

Thief was purchased by the reviewer and tested for the PlayStation 4 system.

Enjoy our review? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @GamersXTREME for the latest in gaming news and reviews.

Curious to how our review system works? Check out the About section.

Toukiden: The Age of Demons Review (PS Vita): “An attempt to slay the demons that plague the Vita”

20140210-210930.jpg

Toukiden is not your typical hack-and-slash Japanese demon-killing learning experience and innuendo ridden game – but then again what is? Toukiden takes a multitude of different games we have come to love and mixes them together to create a melting pot of action. Does this melting pot give a delectable flavor complete with a sultry aftertaste you’ll keep coming back to? Or will it result in a lackluster essence giving a residual bitter sting?

Story: 4/5

Toukiden takes place in what can only be assumed as middle-aged Japan, however the overall time frame of the game takes place over a few hundred years. This is because Toukiden uses real-life characters with small bits of information about their lives to attempt to teach us something about history. Much like the Dynasty Warriors series, this is a unique and interesting concept, but ultimately falls short delivering only small pieces of intriguing information which then gets altered to fit within the contents of the game. Never fret however, as Toukiden isn’t based around any of these stories; it actually has a fairly curious path of its own.

Eight years ago, the mysterious land of Japan was overrun by a mysterious horde of demons, called Oni. These Oni appeared almost out of nowhere, consuming people’s souls and wreaking havoc across the land. A few individuals were able to hold their own against the demons, calling themselves Slayers and attempting to take back their beloved homeland. You play as a Slayer, a unique one at that, capable of bonding to multiple spirits that have been consumed by the Oni, only to be released by defeating them. These spirits are called Mitama and are the same characters based off of real people. You use these Mitama in your quest to eradicate the Oni from Japan, slaying them one by one.

20140210-210848.jpg

Don’t worry however; you’re not alone as you have a whole crew of different allies to choose from to aid in your quests. Each ally has their own story, which you will discover as you progress throughout the campaign. Most are attempted tear-jerkers riddled with small innuendos and some pretty awkward comedy. Even so, I found myself trying even harder to destroy a boss when I knew it had taken everything from my friend.

In the end, the story doesn’t exactly stand out as incredible, but it does deliver more than most games of this nature. The logic in the game actually makes sense and characters really have some feeling to them if you open yourself to enjoying the small take-aways between missions. I will admit that just as the story was starting to get repetitive, it shook things up on me in a pleasant surprise to fuel me further into the battles. But really, you’re not playing this game for the story. Like any hack and slash rpg – you’re playing to kill sh—hhhhtuff.

20140210-210857.jpg

Gameplay: 4/5

Where Toukiden really shines is the focus on teamwork incorporated into its gameplay. There are four slots for slayers in each quest and working together is absolutely essential. Thankfully, the game supports a completely integrated online mode complete with separate quests from the main game (you can also choose to tackle these solo if you wish). Each slayer can equip themselves with three main components: a weapon, armor and mitama.

The weapons in Toukiden took some getting used to, but after using each one consistently, I found that they were extremely well designed. You can choose from a sword, capable of inflicting major damage fast; knives, delivering focused damage quickly at any range, height or area; spear which is an extremely precise and powerful weapon; gauntlets which are nothing short of overpowered hammerfists capable of weakening a demon for others; a chain and sickle which keeps consistent damage at a safe range until you want to get up close and personal; and a bow which delivers deadly area attacks from afar.

20140210-210758.jpg

Armor plays a pivotal role in keeping you alive. Each is equipped with resistances (sky, earth, fire, water, wind) and for the first time in a while, I felt that the resistances actually made a difference. Certain armor combinations will also give you minor boosts such as defense, attack or precision strikes; but since you have no way of figuring out which combinations give boosts (other than full matching sets) you’ll be stuck guessing.

The real boosts come from equipped mitama. Each weapon will allow you to socket 1 to 3 Japanese figures, each holding locked powers waiting to be discovered. Mitama offer a wide variety of boosts which unlock as you level them up but their primary use is for their skills. There are multiple types of mitama: attack, defense, luck, speed, deceit, healing, spirit and special. Each has four limited skills you can choose to use which vary from attack boosts to invisibility areas, to recovering ally’s health and stamina. Using these wisely in a group is extremely essential to completing a mission. As there are no items you can bring into battle with you, you’re limited by what skills you can use. Choose a deceit mitama and you’re out of luck for healing (except that each mitama has one healing skill no matter what). Choose a defense mitama and you may never get that attack boost you need at vital moments.

20140210-210835.jpg

Using these three types of equipment conscious of what you are fighting is vital to success and should not be taken lightly – a form of strategy often lost in action games on this level of detail. So once you’re geared up and you have your reliable buddies with you, it’s time to take it to the battlefield. Missions usually consist of you tracking down a large boss Oni across a sectioned map. Once you’ve found that Oni, it’s not as simple as merely attacking it to kill it. Each large Oni has a defensive spirit gauge which you will need to whittle down before you can actually damage them. You can go about doing this sporadically, by attacking it wherever you feel, or you can use your mind’s eye to locate breakable points on the Oni. Attack these areas (usually limbs or horns) and they will break off, largely reducing the spirit gauge and bringing you closer to inflicting real damage. Also, this leaves that destroyed part vulnerable, with the ability to inflict more damage for the rest of the battle. As an added bonus, most breakable parts will fall off and lay on the ground, allowing you to purify them and collect a reward which you can use to build armor or weapons. You’ll have to be quick however, as the Oni will attempt to reclaim its lost part before you do!

Due to the spirit gauge, battles can last a very long time as constant damage needs to be dealt in order to keep the gauge at bay. A highly coordinated team however would have no problem focusing on a part, destroying it and wreaking havoc only to repeat the process and have the monster defeated in no time (all the while collecting parts for everyone – what one person gets, we all get!). This means that playing by yourself can be a long and tedious process, especially when farming specific monsters – which you will do. A lot. This is in part because some items needed for weapons or armor are very rare, but primarily because there are only a handful of large Oni to face. The game slowly introduces you to different Oni, but by the time you’ve reached the end of the story, you’ll realize you’re just seeing re-skins of previously fought foes. Re-skins are not necessarily a bad thing, they allow the developers to increase the difficulty with a known enemy so you have some sort of base to go off of – it’s a way of increasing the player’s skill. However, a larger repertoire of monsters should be had before re-skins are introduced, and sadly Toukiden falls suspect to this majorly. Not only does this create a very repetitive game, fighting the same monsters over and over due to the lack of options, but it also limits the amount of equipment you can create, ultimately reducing the game’s replay value.

Nonetheless, the gameplay is satisfying and even more gratifying when playing with others which should help reduce the monotony. There’s nothing quite like heading out with three friends to completely dismember a giant demon.

20140210-210907.jpg

Graphics: 5/5

The Playstation Vita is a powerful machine, and we really have yet to see many games that take advantage of that. Luckily, Toukiden is just on that line of awesome. The visuals do their best to “pop” as much as possible, though it is set in a real-world appearance, setting some limits to the extremes we’ve seen in other games. However, this doesn’t take away from the experience. The more lifelike visuals make the details of the monsters, characters, armor and weapons all more riveting. Even small bands, shapes and specifics in equipment will show and remind you that you are playing on a superior device. While I wanted more from the element effects on weapons, I can’t deny that I was able to pick up on them and many other visual effects mid-battle, while all the madness was still going on. There are many “mood changes” throughout playing and you can easily experience that just by noticing the slight offsets created by the environments.

20140210-210745.jpg

Sound: 3/5

The soothing music in the town and battle music are wonderful at creating different emotions throughout the gameplay. However, weapon effects, monster screams and other miscellaneous sounds tend to fall short of what I desired from the game after seeing the visuals. There’s nothing quite like hearing the same repetitive *shink* noise coming from every weapon as you use it; or listening to the same monster’s roar over and over to really remind you that you’re just playing a game. More variety is definitely welcomed, but at least what is there is quality. Keep in mind that the characters all speak Japanese – but even though I don’t know what they’re saying, I could tell what they were thinking. I really don’t recommend a high quality headset to accompany your Vita for this game, but stick to the standard speakers on the Vita and you should be fine.

20140210-210813.jpg

Overall Score: 16/20 = 8.0 out of 10

Overall, Toukiden is a quickly addictive but potentially limited experience. The ability to team up with other real players is an absolute must, as cooperative gameplay is strongly suggested. Just don’t plan on collecting too much in the way of armor and weapons, or at least plan on spending a lot of time farming the same monsters.

Pros:

-Cooperative gameplay
-Well thought out weapons and skills
-Strategy required to really succeed

Cons:

-Little variety. In everything.
-Quests can take a very long time

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Toukiden: The Age of Demons! Copy reviewed on PS Vita.

Enjoy our review? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @GamersXTREME for the latest in gaming news and reviews.

Curious to how our review system works? Check out the About section.