Beyond: Two Souls Review (PS3): “Defying Everything We Know About Games and the Afterlife”

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Beyond: Two Souls is the latest installment from Heavy Rain director David Cage. Beyond takes gaming and movies, and through some amalgamation ends up with an interactive, storytelling adventure that attempts to replace the conventional thoughts about death. With lead roles being owned by Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe, the promise of Beyond: Two Souls escaping the cold clutches of the critics seems plausible, but will the renowned actors be able to save this game alone?

[Be warned: While I attempt to avoid any major spoilers, there are minor spoilers ahead!]

Story: 5/5

It is refreshing to see a game that is different once in a while, and trust me when I say that Beyond: Two Souls is very, very different. You play as Jodie Holmes (played by Ellen Page), a normal girl by any means, with the one exception, that she has an “entity” named Aiden attached to her. No one quite knows what this entity is, why it is tied to her, or how they communicate. But upon learning of his existence, many are curious. Nathan Dawkins (played by Willem Dafoe) is a researcher for the DPA, or Department of Paranormal Activity. He discovers Jodie when she is young after Jodie’s parents bring her to see someone who hopefully can help with the… ‘Incidents’. Nathan quickly learns that Aiden is a force to be reckoned with, and while Jodie can advise him on what to do, Aiden is his own conscious being living beyond what we can perceive as our world. In an attempt to better understand Jodie and Aiden’s link, Nathan takes in Jodie at a young age and becomes a father figure to her – creating a very dense relationship between the two.

Throughout the years, Jodie becomes more in tuned with her life partner Aiden, and the DPA is becoming more knowledgeable about what Aiden is – that is, not whom, but specifically what and where. Jodie becomes able to use Aiden in various ways, such as destroying, healing and even bending the will of others. This attracts the government’s attention, hoping to use her for their own personal gain. With both the DPA and Military sector of government now very interested in what they have coined the “Infraworld” – a dimension that holds spirits and entities alike, Jodie stands the only one who knows even the slightest of truth about what waits for us on the other side. In order for the world not to fall into the ghastly clutches of the Infraworld, Jodie must uncover the rest of the secrets and halt advances to harness this unknown power.

Instead of the traditional linear plot line, David Cage decided to make Beyond more of a mystery – much like death itself, a theme of the game – and make the events of the game staggered throughout time. You play through multiple chapters, each a pivotal time or event in Jodie’s life ranging from her as a young girl to a young adult. At first this put me off, as I felt I couldn’t grasp the questions that needed answering; I couldn’t see where events were falling in place because everything was so scattered. However, my worst fear upon playing through the first few hours was that I couldn’t get emotionally connected to Jodie. Without that emotional connection between player and character, a story-heavy game will fall flat on its face. Luckily, the more dedicated to uncovering the story you are, the more you are rewarded. By about ¾ of the way through the game, I finally had a good understanding of where Jodie came from and her struggles growing up without a true family or friends; but the true reward comes at the end of the game. Seeing the final events unfold, suddenly every bridge was connected, every emotion felt, every question answered – it was almost too much to take. I dare say that the last hour of the story was the best time I have committed to a game ever. If you can take the time and have the maturity to appreciate the pure craftsmanship that went into the creation of the tale, then you will be rewarded.

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Gameplay: 4/5

Seeing as Beyond: Two Souls is more of an interactive movie than video game, it’s hard to judge the gameplay based off of traditional ideas. Instead, you need to look at how the gameplay improves the overall storytelling experience.

In Beyond, you interact with the world via small white spheres that appear by objects or people. This minimalistic design really made the entire game flow quite well, allowing some freedom but keeping you on task and dedicated to events that benefits the story, character development or the overall environment. At times you will have to use shoulder or face buttons to control specific parts of Jodie to bypass an event (i.e. hold R2 to have Jodie move her right leg while climbing a hillside). While this never gets too exciting, it is a nice change of pace during the game progression.

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The heart of the gameplay lies within using Aiden. Throughout the story, you’ll be able to transport yourself to Aiden’s view. Aiden can interact with people or objects: able to push or throw objects, and possess or choke people. Using this constant connection between Jodie and Aiden, you’ll be able to solve multiple puzzles and work around or through obstacles to help progress the story. While the puzzles are never too difficult, there are a lot of different ways to proceed through different events, which is something Beyond really takes advantage of in helping tell the story. At many times in the game you are given choices, whether they be what to say to someone, how to react to a situation, how to progress through an enemy ridden area or what to do on a Saturday night, these choices can impact what happens immediately, or what happens much later down the line. This artistic freedom of affecting your fate as Jodie is a welcomed addition to the classic storytelling. Don’t worry if you’re indecisive however, Beyond: Two Souls takes an interesting position on flow. No matter what choice you make, how you react, what you say – you will progress. The game literally never has a “game over” screen. Even if you mess up by being spotted in a stealth mission, the game will progress in a logical and understandable alternative. This really helps keep the player immersed in the story, which dramatically helps keep interest.

One interesting thing about Beyond is that it actually allows for coop play, putting one player in control of Jodie and the other Aiden. This is dubbed “duo mode” and can be performed via a second dualshock 3… or your mobile phone. That’s right – Quantic Dream gives us a sneak peek into next gen by offering this unique experience. By wireless pairing a phone to your PS3 via wifi network you are able to play either Jodie or Aiden for the entire game! The standard controls of R1, L2 and swiping functions done with the right stick are now mapped simply to touch and swipe controls on your phone. Quite surprisingly the phone app works perfectly, offering no lag and fairly accurate controlling of the character of your choice. Interestingly enough you can also choose to play with your phone solo – if that’s your thing. But keep in mind that you will still need your TV to play, as the phone merely acts as a controller.

While I wish I had more options when controlling Aiden, as I could have bypassed many obstacles different ways (instead of just the few laid out), I felt the gameplay helped make the story. A clunky, obstructive interface and mismatched transitions from player input focus to story focus would have ruined the experience. Instead, Beyond took a little more control than I would have wanted, but in the end, provided a seamless experience that still let me feel like I was in control of this beautifully told adventure.

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Graphics: 4/5

As any story-heavy game should be, Beyond: Two Souls really captivates the player with its gorgeous, yet at times inconsistent graphics. The first thing I noticed is that throughout literally the entire game, two classic widescreen movie bars rest on the top and bottom of the screen. This simple addition creates a smooth transition between cutscenes and gameplay, and really makes you feel like what you are doing in the game at all times IS a cutscene. Due to the dedication of great graphical representation during gameplay scenes, I often wouldn’t realize that the cutscene had ended! This is due to the hard efforts put forth by Quantic Dream at delivering a borderline next-gen experience. It’s been revealed that they in fact created a new engine to handle many of the graphics in-game, especially lighting effects which I instantly noticed as like nothing I had ever seen before. Different objects reflect light in different ways, and the shading accompanying this was extravagant in every stage.

Quantic Dream also utilized a whole new system of motion capture. While they still equipped actors with the classic jumpsuit with tracking bulbs, they also had a massive array of different cameras by which they were able to truly capture each movement and scene near perfectly. This is reflected extremely well whenever you take the time to truly look at the body language of the characters in the game, whether in cutscene or out! I really felt that the characters were human and not rigid structures just put into semi-acceptable actions. Even a simple action such as walking was represented with such lifelike demonstration, fully equipped with moving clothing and subtle nuances from other people in the game.

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Putting real actors into a game can be risky. We know what they look like, and we know they are capable of bringing a large visual donation to their roles. Luckily, Quantic Dream was able to translate their facial expressions into the game in an unprecedented way. With the exception of most minor characters, the facial expressions in cutscenes were a joy to watch. I found myself enjoying a new level of attachment and understanding just by picking up on the delicate touches of expression shown by the characters.

While a slightly more consistent graphic quality could have been brought to the minor characters and busier sections of the game, I truly feel that Beyond is a pure pleasure to sit back and simply watch.

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Sound: 5/5

Here I thought The Last of Us had phenomenal voice acting, but Beyond: Two Souls really takes it up a step. Obviously, we should expect brilliant performances from Page and Dafoe (and we get them!) but even minor characters perform past expectations! The glorious thing to remember is that each character had an incredible amount of different lines to say and emotions to convey based on what actions the player has chosen. Being able to properly push those emotions onto the player in every scene is something that is rarely discovered in any form of art these days; but to have it come across in a game where YOUR choices are YOUR emotions being reflected back onto YOU?! That’s something special.

Compared to the incredible voice acting, the rest of the game’s sound effects should have been a major let down, but luckily we weren’t completely decimated by cheap clip art noises. From slight paper turns to spectral groans, Beyond really emphasizes the reality of the situations. While a few sounds may come across as too loud or out of place compared to the environment, I feel this was just slight nick-picking as the quality was still high.

The game’s soundtrack (composed by Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe) was something that surprised me however. There was never a lot of music to cap off scenes, instead relying on the environment’s effects to take hold. However, when there was that added attention grabber, I felt that the music properly conveyed what was going on. I never felt that it really drove what was happening, but merely complimented the experience.

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Overall Score: 18/20 = 9.0 out of 10

Beyond: Two Souls is a fascinating experience that will force you to dive deep into your consciousness to understand the portrayals of life and death as you know it. Impeccable acting and representation of characters and events make you feel like you’re participating in a cinematic experience, and the emotional ties that go along with it won’t let you forget that your choices really matter. If you can get past some minor inconsistencies and be patient in knowing that you can’t know everything, whichever ending you choose, you won’t be let down.

Pros:

+ Amazing acting

+ Facial expressions on main characters

+ Ending 30min-1hr of “epiphanies”

+ Great lighting and physics

+ No game over

+ Choices matter and affect immediate and far outcomes

Cons:

– Minor characters not some facial quality as main

– Some minor inconsistencies in textures and graphic quality

– Non-linear story line may be hard for some to grasp

Copy purchased by author for review purposes.

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Killzone: Mercenary Review (PS Vita): “Money Talks, and You Should Listen”

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Set in a futuristic, war-torn world, Killzone: Mercenary thrives off of the steam from the past 2 major entries in the series. With KZM exclusive to the PlayStation Vita, there are some expected differences that one would expect to notice. Do those differences boost the effectiveness of a First Person Shooter on a handheld device? Or do they hold the title back, ultimately placing it with other failed attempts at creating an FPS on the go?

Story: 4/5

Guerilla Cambridge’s Killzone: Mercenary takes an interesting look at the events that have already perspired in both Killzone and Killzone 2. While it never directly impacts the events that have already taken place, it does help explain how some feats could have happened – that is, all along there was this small force of Mercenaries which helped turn the war one way or another, regardless if we had no idea at the time.

You play as Arran Danner, a mercenary who lends his particular skillset out to whoever pays the most. Through contracts via either the ISA or Helghast, Danner sets out to accomplish a variety of different tasks which all help turn the tides of the ongoing war between the two major forces. To really understand what is going on, Cambridge sets up a beautifully narrated and quick-to-the-point recap of what has happened up to this point – that is, up to the time of Killzone. Two political parties get into a feud on the planet Vekta, a futuristic Earth-like planet. When a civil war breaks out, the dominant party (the ISA) kicks out the Helghast, banishing them to the poor and desolate mining planet of Helghan. The environment on this planet is so harsh that many of the people die, yet those who survive become stronger, both physically and mentally. In order to endure the planet’s harsh environment, the Helghast develop certain equipment which fends off the radiation, heat and other elements. This gives the Helghast their well-known look of always wearing gas masks of some sort. Although the Helghast were banished from Vetka, they didn’t give up on their right to live there and therefore, through the climb to power by ruthless dictator Visari, planned a surprise attack on Vetka.

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This is where the game starts. The ISA are in dire trouble, being caught off guard and overwhelmed by the Helghast’s superior technology. One of the ISA’s main commanders is held captive, and in order to win the war, they need her alive and by their side. By sending in Danner to rescue her, the ISA realizes that they can use Mercenaries to help in the more pertinent missions while the main forces defend the front lines.

Move ahead 2 years. The rest of the game takes place within the time frame of Killzone 2. The ISA, with the help of Danner and his crew, have repelled the Helghast back to their home planet. The ISA needs to retaliate to finish this war that the Helghast have started, yet they are still no match for the Helghast’s superior weaponry. However, an opportunity opens up for the ISA to seize control of the situation. A Helghan scientist is willing to defect, providing all sorts of knowledge for the ISA, as well as holding the knowledge of a secret weapon the Helghast intend to use. Danner’s main mission henceforth is to intercept the scientist and bring him to the ISA for questioning. However, some interesting information comes to light when Danner is turned upon, thus forcing him to aid the Helghast military leader at the time, Kratek. What happens next in the war between the ISA and Helghast is up to one man.

Killzone: Mercenary is set up across 9 missions, and much to my surprise, each mission flowed together quite well. There was never any time where I felt I had missed something, despite the game being segmented. KZM had a very interesting and catchy theory: take something that’s already happened and throw a twist on it all to show how it could have turned out. By tying the story into previous titles it was easy to follow along (so long as you have played Killzone and Killzone 2) but not necessary to the plot. I took a special amount pleasure in seeing key events that took place in the past entries reappear in this side-title, such as when Visari nuked his own city. Overall, I felt that the story, while well thought-out and entirely believable in the previously established events, lacked a certain amount of pull on the player. I wouldn’t say the story did well on its own, but with the knowledge of everything else that is going on (carefully detailed before each mission) it adds a certain richness to the entire series.

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Gameplay: 5/5

There have been a few attempts at releasing a First Person Shooter on the Vita, or any handheld gaming device for that matter, and none have really made it to the acceptable mark. Yet, what most have tried to do, Guerrilla Cambridge has succeeded in doing. Utilizing the dual analog sticks along with minor touch screen/pad function and staying true to the feel of a Killzone game has surprisingly worked on the Vita, and all of us who still have a Vita are thrilled!

While I do recommend turning up the sensitivity, KZM feels incredibly natural. The physics and inertia are all reminiscent of past entries in the series, which really helps the veteran jump right in. Cambridge has brought back several guns and equipment, as well as added quite a few alterations of certain weapons to create the largest armory in the Killzone series yet. In addition to your primary, secondary and equipment, you can also change out your armor to fit your specific needs, and there is an entirely new system titled VAN-Guards, which are essentially killstreaks that can be used in both multiplayer and single player. All of the equipment and weapons you acquire can be purchased through a mysterious seller who thrives off of conflict, Black Jack. Throughout the game you’ll find supply caches where you can change out your gear or resupply, which you will desperately need as ammo reserves are low throughout the story.

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Killzone: Mercenary tries something that not many FPS have. KZM allows you to play through the entire game stealthily. Whenever you enter a new area in the story, (with the exception of a few laid out circumstances) enemies are unaware of your existence. By playing it low, you can avoid a large amount of reinforcements in every scenario, thus making your job a whole lot easier. While this is a great and challenging idea, it isn’t perfectly executed. There were many times when enemies would spot something a downed enemy who happened to be laying behind cover 200 yards away, thus blowing my covert op. At the same time, I was able to clearly walk past an enemy without him noticing, so I suppose there was some give and take there.

While playing it low and slow can make the entire experience smoother (albeit still very, VERY challenging), there is some gratification in large massacres as a one man army. Luckily, KZM still allows you to play this way as well! In fact, there are 4 specific ways to play, which become unlocked upon one completion of the story. You can play it normally (however you want, no rules), stealth, precision or demolition. Each of the 3 additional ‘modes’ have specific goals you need to meet in a mission- i.e.: get 50 headshots, get 30 kills from behind, destroy a tank with a VAN-Guard.

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Even though there are many different ways to progress through the story, easily seen by marvelously designed levels fitted with multiple paths (quite possibly the best I have ever seen in a shooter), I still felt as though I was doing the same thing every mission. Stealth for a little while, get caught, fight off hoards upon hoards of enemies, get to objective, initiate hack/demolition, fight off more hoards of enemies, barely escape on a cruiser, repeat 8 more times. The overall experience is however broken up by a clever puzzle “hacking” system in which you can gain access to intel, open locked doors, etc. In this sequence, you utilize the touch screen by matching certain shapes to a pad. Match all the shapes in the time allotted and you’ve won the small gratification that comes with completing such a simple, yet often adrenaline pumping puzzle.

All in all, the gameplay is reliably fun and enticing. It truly feels like an FPS and though there are a few issues, such as the cover system not cooperating when you really need it to, you’ll never sit back after a death and have to blame awkward controls.

One thing that the Vita really needs is a game that will hold you for a while – after all, we’re not getting many (if any) system sellers (MH plug) to keep you interested in using your Vita. Thankfully, Guerrilla Cambridge answered our prayers with Killzone: Mercenary. Every part about this game screams “play me some more!” The best part about KZM is that, at its heart, it is a mobile game. The missions are set up to be played quickly, and online matches can take anywhere from a very short 5 minutes to a riveting 20 minutes!

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As mentioned earlier, there are 4 ways to go through the story; and with the objectives that go with each play style you could be playing for a while just trying to complete one mission. Even though the story isn’t long by any means, (I completed it on veteran difficulty in about 5 hours, and I took my damn time retrying levels and exploring) this push to play the story different ways makes the game already quadruple in replay value.

Of course, there is also the fact that Killzone: Mercenary has a fully functional multiplayer, albeit a few bugs here and there (which hopefully will get worked on very soon). KZM’s multiplayer takes a step to the side from past Killzone entries, which at first disturbed me, until I kept playing and found that I was loving, and dominating, the online!

KZM does away with the previous class system, and instead implements a more general system of creating a loadout. You unlock 5 loadouts as you rank up, each can be equipped with a primary, secondary, armor, equipment and VAN-Guard via Black Jack’s armory. The wonderful thing about KZM is that Black Jack’s armory carries over between single player and multiplayer; meaning that anything you buy in one game mode will transfer to the other, including money earned! This really helps new players jump into the online without a worry as to being under-equipped.

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The general gameplay of the multiplayer has stayed the same however. There are 3 modes to choose from: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Warzone. Warzone is a collaboration of different game modes bundled into one match; performing objectives will earn your team points, the team with the most point at the end wins. Modes range from standard team deathmatch, a stealthy interrogation mode, to a capture the VAN-Guard mode. VAN-Guards are present in two ways in multiplayer. The first is simply a random drop and accessing it gives you a random VAN-Guard to use. The second is through a game mode in warzone, as mentioned, where you need to hack the VAN-Guard using the shape matching sequence found in single player to earn you and your team points.

Each match will pit 8 players against one another, and thankfully the beautifully designed maps are the perfect size for these skirmishes. During any online gameplay, a kill will reward you with a dropped valor card which you can pick up. These valor cards are a representation of the skill of the player you just killed. They are categorized by weapon type, and range from 2 to Ace. For instance, if someone were a top notch sniper, they would have an Ace of Spades card; if they are a very poor assault rifle user they would have a 2 of clubs. Collecting these cards will net you XP/cash, but more importantly, collecting an entire deck will net you a large boost of cash! The little details like this really add to the overall experience and make for an enjoyable and lengthy career online.

While there are some issues that need to be worked out, such as parties being able to join together, or some lag and awful respawns, the multiplayer truly gives you your $40 worth alone. That, combined with the daunting task of going for platinum, will really give you your money’s worth.

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Graphics: 5/5

Killzone has been known for its impeccable graphical quality. While using what is essentially the KZ3 engine, one would expect KZM to deliver the same quality on the powerful Vita. To no one’s surprise, Cambridge was able to do just that. The lighting and shadow effects are glorious in each mission, and the attention to detail is a force to be reckoned with. Multiple times throughout the story, there are cinematic-appearing cutscenes in which you can actually look around, and I strongly encourage that everyone does so to get a feel for how wonderful this game looks. In the first mission alone, you glide through the Vetka skyline and you can feel the weight of the war just by what you see.

Throughout gunfire from dozens of enemies and a vast section of area, there are no frame rate drops; though at many times there were what appeared to be slight pauses where the game needed to catch up – primarily in between sections and/or when exiting Black Jack’s supply caches. (After the infrequently frequent occurrences, I deduced that this was not a general frame rate drop but merely issues jumping from small amounts of detail to very large due to the fact that I never encountered it when I would have thought)

At one point in the story, I was actually blinded by the light cast between an enemy’s legs, I had to stop for a second not only to figure out what to do to see, but to admire how well the effects represented themselves. While some particle effects could have been a little cleaner, such as dust clouds in the distance, I can honestly say that this is one of the best looking Vita games out there.

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Sound: 4/5

There is nothing more satisfying than the kill chirp that emits upon finishing and enemy, except of course the over gratifying melon-pop noise that comes with a sniper headshot. Thankfully, Guerilla Cambridge made sure to include all of the traditional Killzone sound effects into this latest installment, and for that I couldn’t be happier.

Seeing as a large part of the game is based around stealth, it also makes sense to really showcase some essential noises into the environment as you’re traversing through the story. Being able to hear your own footsteps as you approach an enemy helps you learn that you need to take it slow, or risk being noticed. Other cues such as character dialogue between AI in the middle of a mission help key you in to what they’re thinking. While some of the voice acting is a little over the top (I’m looking at you Russian Vampire Lord Black Jack), you rarely find yourself believing the characters aren’t invested in what is going on.

The only noticeable setback is the soundtrack to the game. Killzone 2 had an iconic menu song, and Killzone 3 made its best attempt, and coming close, at one as well. However, not once did I really find myself getting engrossed in a musical score. While this is quite a disappointment to me, it doesn’t deter from the overall gameplay experience as you have other things to worry about.

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Overall Score: 18/20 = 9.0 out of 10

In the end, Killzone: Mercenary truly provides an amazing experience on the PlayStation Vita. It feels like a shooter you’d play on a console, and with a multiplayer to match, it is a force to be reckoned with. I can safely say that the quality and quantity holds up well to its predecessors and should be in every person’s Vita library.

PROS:

+ Incredible graphics, especially for a handheld

+ Great controls and feel

+ Addictive multiplayer

+ Lots of ways to progress through the story

CONS:

-Some bugs with the cover system

-Story progression can get repetitive when not going for a specific play-style

Copy purchased by author for review purposes.

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Stealth Inc. – A Clone in the Dark Review (PS3/Vita): “A Crafty Puzzler That Just May Sneak Its Way Into Your Hands”

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Lately it seems as if stealth themed games are attempting to make as much of a presence with gamers as vampire movies make with teenage girls; the only issue is that sometimes they sneak by without being noticed. “Stealth Inc. – A Clone in the Dark” was almost one of those titles. If it wasn’t for PlayStation’s “Play” program, largely promoting the game and offering a discount, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed it. Luckily however, I did pick up Stealth Inc. and found it to be an enjoyable puzzler that quenched my thirst for a challenge.

Stealth Inc. has you play as an adorable little clone just trying to escape from its manufacturing facility in a 2D side-scrolling puzzler. As you outsmart and utilize other clones, you run across a number of different obstacles ranging from simple unlockable doors, to motion-activated lasers, to scanning little destroyer bugs. The game progresses nicely and at a great pace for those who haven’t tackled many puzzlers before. There are 8 stages, with each stage containing 8 levels, the last of which always contains an all-powerful and all-seeing boss! At the start of each stage, something new is introduced and you learn to conquer it within the next few stages; ultimately proving your newly found skills to use against the boss at the end.

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You are graded after each level based on a few simple and obvious factors: Did you die? Were you spotted? And how long did you take? While the comprehension is simple enough, the execution is not always as easy and the ever present leaderboards will kindly remind you of how stealthy you truly are. But never fear, if you’re struggling with a level, all it takes a little effort to reach a high enough rank and unlock a gadget for that level, allowing you to further improve your efforts. Ranging from an invisible suit to a decoy of yourself, these gadgets will require some skill to unlock for each level, but will push you higher on the leaderboards with ease.

While Stealth Inc. doesn’t have a strong (or even minuscule) story, it does contain some cleverly hilarious ridicule by the game devs sprinkled throughout each level, which helps you feel as if what you’re doing (escaping) is really your plan or… theirs. Once completed, Stealth Inc. offers a satisfying amount of replay value for the price of $10, but nothing that makes it stand apart from a common mobile game. You can replay all the levels you’ve completed with upgraded gadgets and knowledge of how to improve your score; you can go back and attempt to gather the collectible within a level; or you can try your hand at the custom level creator. While at first a little difficult to grasp, the level creator is simple and rewarding. You can make an entire level from the ground up to puzzle anyone who wishes to take on your devious plots – that is, of course, being that you can’t actually upload your level anywhere – making “anyone” turn in to you… and your brother. The single most disappointing aspect of Stealth Inc. is the lack of any sort of online functionality beyond the leaderboards. While most games allow you to share your created content, Stealth Inc. offers no such thing, essentially making the level creator useless beyond a certain point.

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Nonetheless, for a small amount of money you get a large entertainment value that is sure to force you to stop and think a few times. The soundtrack, while small, is addictive and fitting – putting you instantly into a Mission: Impossible mindset, and the vibrant and crisp, yet pixelated at times, art style is refreshing and helpful when looking for paths or clues to your escape. Stealth Inc. is a much better play on the Playstation Vita compared to the PS3, as it really fits into a quick, yet addictive time killer on the go. Either way, you can’t go wrong with this game if you’re looking for a little something to keep you busy in between some larger titles.

Overall Score: 8.5 out of 10 = BUY IT!

Copy purchased by author for review purposes. Game tested on both the PS3 and PS Vita.

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Radio Xtreme – Episode 29: “Gamescom Predictions, Vita Talk, and More”

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In this episode of Radio Xtreme, Glacier928 and VengefulTorture discuss their GamesCom predictions, this upcoming week’s releases, the Killzone Mercenary beta, Castle of Illusion PS3 exclusive pre-order bonus, and much more!

The V Podcast: Xbox One Reveal Thoughts

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VengefulTorture and myself (Glacier928) discuss our 100% honest thoughts about the Xbox One reveal in episode 10 of “The V Podcast”. Breaking down every feature of yesterday’s announcement, we talk about the pros and cons with what was shown.

Soul Sacrifice Review (PS Vita): “A Mage Infested Murder Party”

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Soul Sacrifice is a new IP that places you at the (lack of) mercy of an evil sorcerer. With only a magical book to guide you in your journey to becoming a sorcerer you must build your repertoire of spells in order to save yourself and the world. Complete quests by yourself or with others online in order to become strong enough to defeat the sorcerer, and while you’re doing that – be weary of what sacrifices your actions may bring.

Story: 5/5

Soul sacrifice is an action RPG that has a very unique and riveting story line. You start off a nameless nobody in a cell ready to be sacrificed by the evil sorcerer Magusar. The world has come to an end and there seems to be no hope left to be found. However, a magical book by the name of Librom finds his way to you and begins to tell you a tale of Magusar’s beginnings in hopes that by finishing the story, you will acquire information on how to defeat him and return the world to its natural order. Librom has you relive the stories within the book as Magusar’s companion, another sorcerer whom you gain control over. You venture through several chapters of the book, gaining different spells, passive abilities and all the while unlocking the secrets of how to save the world. None of this would be useful if kept in a book however, so Librom explains that everything you learn as the sorcerer in the book, you will gain knowledge to in real life. Essentially, Librom is turning you into the one person who can save the entire world.

The general plot line of soul sacrifice is reminiscent of various sci-fi movies and books. It’s filled with betrayal, difficult choices, internal and external struggles and some wild theories and claims about how the world of sorcerers works. But as you make your way through the story… you’ll find that it works. Instead of being confused or bothered by the outlandish theories the game brings about, you will find that everything seems to make sense and suddenly you understand events, emotions, and actions that took place earlier in the story. The developers took a risk at how far out from normal they could go, and it paid off with a brilliantly told and quite gripping story. You can really feel yourself being connected to the characters in the game (albeit how few there are), pushing you to finish the story before you do anything else.

One of the key successes of the story is actually how it is told. Soul Sacrifice makes an interesting move by not showing many cut scenes and replacing usual story progression with the pages of the book, being read by an eerie voice portraying your character. If you have the patience to listen to each line being read within the story, you will certainly gain more understanding of the weight of the situations, and be able to grasp a lot of the feelings coming from the story.

Sadly, soul sacrifice’s main story can be completed in one day, provided you understand the tactics and mechanics of the game for some of the later missions. Even though it is short, the story leaves nothing to be desired. There are two endings which both properly lead to a sequel and really grasp the gravity of the entire build up, forcing you to reach deep into your soul to pry out what you feel would be the best way to conclude the epic journey you have uncovered.

Soul Sacrifice Gameplay 5

Gameplay: 4/5

Soul Sacrifice is basically a combination of Monster Hunter and Dragon Age. It utilizes different spells or offerings as your main form of taking down monsters. As you progress through the game, you will unlock hundreds of different spells. Some give you handheld weapons, others may send a streaking path of fire towards your enemies, while others yet may summon a huge golem to do your bidding. You will be able to upgrade spells through a simple fusion option, or combine new spells in a clearly laid out manner. With all the different spells at your disposal one would think taking down enemies would be easy. Well that’s where the game takes a very interestingly fun turn. Out of the hundreds of different spells you may unlock, you can only bring 6 into a quest. There are essentially two types of quests: kill multiple monsters of lower tier (mobs), or kill one large boss monster. Each boss monster has a specific strategy, technique or weakness which can aid in its defeat, and must be utilized for an easier kill. Upon killing any monster, you’re given a choice: to save or sacrifice their soul. This is essentially a karma system in which you are rewarded more defense for saving, or more attack for sacrificing. You gain levels for saving or sacrificing which can give you different passive abilities called sigils, and are accessed via essences collected from defeated monsters after being saved or sacrificed. This is really a well thought-out system as you can change your level balance at any time, allowing you to play the game exactly how you want.

Nonetheless, the sad reality is that the repetitive process of enter quest, kill, repeat can get kind of… well… repetitive. In the end, you only need to do the quests in which you need certain spells for. However, Soul Sacrifice attempts to remedy this by having you farm different quests for different spells. Instead of assigning different spells to a single monster, the game gives you multiple options of quests to complete in order to acquire the spells you want. While this doesn’t completely rid of grinding certain quests, it does help smoothen out the process by picking quests you like. And don’t worry about there being a shortage of quests either; there are literally chapters within chapters within chapters of quests.

Soul Sacrifice Gameplay 4

As the quests increase in difficulty, you may need to borrow the help of others via online or ad hoc play with up to 3 other players. The online for Soul Sacrifice is probably one of the best and most stable in a Vita game yet, allowing you to party up and tackle quests that may have given you some trouble on your own. Just in case the aid of others isn’t enough to defeat a monster, the developers of Soul Sacrifice have added one final trick to help you along. If you get beat on enough in a quest to come close to death, you will be given the option to cast a Black Rite spell. There are 5 Black Rites in total, each allowing for massive damage on a single or multiple enemies. However, in order to use them, you must sacrifice something…really bringing out the nature of the game. For instance, activating one Black Rite will set you on fire, causing a massive Ifrit to destroy the battlefield – however, without your skin, your defense is halved! That is until you can reverse the process via an in-game currency collected by playtime called Lacrima. This extra ability, along with the factors that go into a properly prepared sorcerer for each quest, really bring out a strong sense of strategy when playing by yourself or with others, and is often neglected in other games, resorting to a “hack and slash” mentality.

With so many quests to complete, spells to collect and upgrade, and costumes to unlock, there is easily an extremely large replay value thrown in with Soul Sacrifice. You never truly get that feeling of accomplishment until you fully upgrade a spell and begin to dominate with it, only to realize there are hundreds of other spells that could use the same treatment. The ability to team up with others wherever you are is truly a blessing and also prolongs the value of the game. While you may find that certain things are just not worth grinding for, there are at least a solid 50 hours of gameplay in which you can accomplish maxing out your character, completing most quests and maybe maxing a few spells. However, the real value is that Soul Sacrifice can be played anywhere on your Vita. Most quests will not take longer than just a few minutes, allowing you to accomplish small goals on-the-go, making this game to be one of the most practical games on the Vita yet.

Although the gameplay doesn’t change a whole lot from start to finish, you’ll find yourself enjoying newly unlocked spells and working with others to be quite enjoyable, all the while becoming the most badass sorcerer you can be.

Soul Sacrifice Gameplay 7

Graphics: 3/5

Many Vita games have seemed to fall short in the graphics department. And while Soul Sacrifice does have some of the best consistent graphics to date, it doesn’t really show it off. Each quest is filled with very vibrant and dynamic environments. Your character’s colors will pop out and the monster details are glorious. But as soon as you exit a quest and return to your homely book, you remember that most of the game just isn’t capturing its potential. This is partly due to the way the story is told, lacking cut-scenes and relying on the pages of the book to express what is going on.

There is one nicely done cut-scene at the end of the game that reminds you of how great the quality of the graphics are, but other than that, you’re really going to have to appreciate the details in the hectic and concentrated gameplay portion of the game. Nevertheless, the game is crisp and colorfully vivacious when it needs to be, and the constant barrage of spells at your disposal really reminds you of this with exciting animations beautifully displayed across your screen.

Soul Sacrifice Gameplay 2

Sound: 3/5

With the end of the world upon us in Soul Sacrifice, there is this large feeling of gloom about, and the game’s audio really reflects the eeriness about it. The most capturing thing about the story is how perfectly performed the voice acting is. The emotions are wonderfully captured within every read page and at the end of the readings, you’re rewarded with a most elegant, yet dark and despaired opera, which underlines most of the menus in the book. Sadly, those are the most memorable sounds as the rest of the game’s audio is often blurred by the action.

Within every quest is a wonderful score that captures the battles you are about to undertake, portraying the mood vividly. However, this is turned down and overrun by the epic sounds of your spells being cast and bosses apparently drowning in their own word vomit. While the spells are wonderfully displayed for all to hear and know exactly what is going on, a lot of the ambience is lost in the process, really bringing about a relief when you return to the calm menus.

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Overall Score: 15/20 = 7.5 out of 10

As one of the most versatile games on the Vita, allowing you to enjoy playing in short bursts or for extended periods, Soul Sacrifice really makes an impression into the Vita library. Over a plethora of quests, you will unlock and build of hundreds of spells by which you can take down a variety of different monsters to build yourself as a divine or evil sorcerer. You can be accompanied by 3 others in online or ad hoc play, all the while being coaxed along by the smooth, dark and sultry sounds of the menus, and invigorated by the montage-like soundtrack of murdering in quests; or by its rather impressive, yet under-utilized graphics. While the game can get repetitive, it does hold some stature for attempting to mix things up for you. In the end, Soul Sacrifice stands out for its ingenuity in creating an addictive, albeit repetitive, mage infested murder party that could have used a little more attention to the finesse of the game.

Pros:

+ Compelling story

+ Strong voice acting

+ Lots of replay value (quests, spells etc)

+ Strong and stable online

Cons: 

– Repetitive in nature

– Audio in quest can be too “busy” at times

Copy purchased by reviewer (@VengefulTorture) for review purposes.

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The V Podcast: Episode 2 – PS4 Announcement, Killzone: Mercenary Discussion, Wii U Sales and Much More!

killzone mercenary

As a change of pace from the site’s Radio Xtreme podcasts, I guest starred in a podcast with Vengeful Torture in his newly debuted, The V Podcast, on YouTube. Within the 80+ minutes, we discuss a variety of topics that vary between the Wii U sales talk and why it’s not doing as poorly as people make it seem, Killzone: Mercenary’s announcement, some upcoming DLC for games like Battlefield 3 and PS All-Stars, the possibility of a Resident Evil “reboot”, and of course, the inevitable PS4 announcement and leaked Uncharted 4. Sit back, grab a drink and tune into this special podcast!