Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

The drought of games finally came to an end a couple weeks ago.  The console releases lately were coming in at a trickle, but finally we have some new games to play!  With that, one of those games was Splinter Cell: Blacklist.  I’m sure you were aware of it; it seemed like their were about a thousand trailers to come out for it over the course of the last few months.  All this media attention sometimes ends up leaving a bad impression on a new release.  How many times do you remember seeing a company spend the big bucks rolling out constant advertising for a sub par product?  Well, luckily for our sake, Blacklist is actually a pretty good game!  A good interweaving of versatile gameplay and decent storytelling mixed with a nice suite of multiplayer options left me with fond memories of Blacklist.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist is the first blockbuster release of many to come this year from publisher Ubisoft.  Developed by Ubisoft Toronto, Blacklist is an action-adventure stealth game which plays similarly to its predecessor Splinter Cell: Conviction.  I, for the most part, like the storylines used in Tom Clancy games.  They are contemporary, usually deal with international incidents, have political ramifications or motivations and puts the onus of resolution on a highly black operations team or individual.  Call me corny, but I am a sucker for all these story aspects.  Blacklist is no different.  Sam Fisher, (voiced by Eric Johnson, who does a decent job) is back on the scene in the newly formed “Fourth Echelon” who’s main base of operations is on a special cargo plane named the “Paladin”.  What exactly is Sam Fisher tasked with this time?  Dealing with a terrorist cell named the “Engineers”.  Every seven days the Engineers will attack something of value to the American ecosystem unless America pulls all its troops out from abroad.  Overall, the story is above average, the story really moves in spots and the gravity of the situation is very apparent, but it definitely has its corny spots (why is Grim always loading her gun up for action if all she does is logistics and tells everyone how wrong they are all the time??) and the emotional beats (conversations with Sarah) just really didn’t do it for me.  The music is a high point for me.  Very clandestine sounding which I highly enjoyed.

The Splinter Cell franchise has come a long way from it’s ultra stealthy gameplay from previous iterations, but that’s not to say it’s not fun.  This is a subjective matter, but I feel Blacklist caters well to both parties.    At it’s core, let’s face it, you are a highly trained, highly lethal undercover agent.  For the purists they will play along with that in mind skulking around in the shadows and either bypass the enemies or kill with silence.  For those who like to throw caution to the wind and cause carnage, that option is also viable.  These three styles are entitled Ghost, Panther and Assault.  In my humble opinion, usually when a developer adds multiple play styles that don’t feel organic to the kind of game it is I feel as if it’s a cop out.  If it’s a stealth game make it stealthy.  I do understand this is a business and it’s clearly just to attract a wider audience, but that’s just how I generally feel about it.  With that being said I feel as if all the play styles just work with Blacklist.  I am, personally, a huge fan of stealth, so I played the part to a tee, but after my initial play through I tried some “assault” style and I have to admit, it was fun.

The way you decide to play the game is predicated on the way you equip yourself.  Your options range from stealthy sticky shockers or smoke to cloud your movement to frag grenades and proximity mines for when you just don’t care if they know you are there.  From the onset you will be inundated with customization options which can be a bit overwhelming at first, but takes only a small investment of time to get acclimated to.  The obvious customization options are there from the Conviction days: pistols, secondary weapons, gadgets, etc.  In addition to those you can also customize your apparel for either stealth or armor load outs.  The classic goggles may also be upgraded (which is awesome) and even the Paladin can be upgraded!  Like I said, it’s a lot to get used to, but I really enjoyed this level of customization.  Speaking of the Paladin, not only is this your mode of transportation in-game, but it also doubles as the main navigation screen for playing the game.  I kind of liked this, but I’m sure some people won’t be too thrilled about it.  You access all your main campaign missions, side missions, multiplayer options and character customization for both main game and multiplayer through the interior of the Paladin.

Although it takes time to become proficient at it, I must say the bringing back of the Spies V. Mercs multiplayer mode was a great idea.  The first person Mercs mode leaves a little to be desired on the controls aspect of things, but it’s good enough.  Tensions are high as the dichotomy of both sides couldn’t be more different.  I feel that if you have any experience and/or affinity for first person shooters you will probably enjoy the Merc side, but it’s infinitely more satisfying to quietly get that knife kill as a Spy.  Each round consists of the Spies having to hack into computer terminals while the Mercs are trying to prevent the hacks.  After the round is over each team switches sides, so you get to partake in both play styles.  The other multiplayer modes consist of variations of Spies V. Mercs, but a classic team deathmatch mode is also available.  All in all it was all pretty fun, nothing to make you invest tremendous amount of time in, but fun.  The co-op and side missions were very fun.  I liked the mixture of stealth or assault gameplay and was generally fun with another person as long as their was communication.

To put it candidly,  Blacklist was a very enjoyable experience for me.  I spent a little bit of time with it at E3, but taking in the whole breadth of the game was very nice.  The multitude of options at your disposable is great.  Whether it’s the extensive customization, innovative multiplayer, all the side missions to do with a buddy or just playing the campaign with all the different play styles, Blacklist is definitely worth the time.  The campaign doesn’t really have a particularly amazing stage, but the whole of the campaign is solid.  One other thing I didn’t touch on is the Gone Dark missions.  These were very amusing, but had nothing to do with game play.  It was more a meta game that involved lots of Google searches, nonetheless try it out!  If you’re in the mood for a third person Swiss army knife type of game look no further.  Blacklist will surely be able to please audiences of different interests.

TLoU

The Last of Us was, simply put, a tour de force of everything that makes a game amazing. The astounding visual aesthetic, beautiful score, sublime controls and powerfully emotional story all combine for an experience that is not soon to be forgotten.

The story of The Last of Us revolves around Joel, Ellie and their trek through the United States in an attempt to locate the Fireflies, a separatist group of the United States government (or what’s left of it) with hopes of helping to find a cure for the dreaded infection that is afflicting mankind.  In this post-apocalyptic story the human race is being decimated by a parasitic fungi of the cordycep family, spread through airborne spores.  Once infected, the person becomes crazed and has traits similar to a “zombie”, feeding on the uninfected.  They run, scratch, claw and generally just try to kill you.  Similar to zombies, a scratch or bite from the infected will, in turn, infect you.  Infected are not the only thing you need to worry about through your travels in The Last of Us.  You will also encounter small pockets of survivors through your travels.  These people are not to be taken lightly as most of the time they are also fighting for their survival and will stop at nothing to ensure it.  The Last of Us does a masterful job of conveying a feeling of desperation to the player when dealing with these two very different enemies.  The survivors call out for help, use strategies such as flanking and generally are present in numbers.  Hardly anyone travels alone is this world.  Their are different types of infected you come across which alters the way you go about handling each scenario.  The infected usually are in packs as well and tend to swarm on you if any loud noises are heard which almost forces you to play somewhat stealthily.

These scenarios can be approached in three different ways: the run and gun format, which is basically a death sentence, the stealth kill format which doesn’t work on all enemies or lastly, just avoiding combat all together which is easier said than done.  The decision is yours, but the one constant, no matter which way you decide to deal with them, is sure to be nerve racking.  This feeling is supplemented by the lack of resources you have available to you.  Especially, in the harder difficulty setting, resources are sparse and force you to take things usually taken for granted, such as ammo, into constant consideration.  Their is a crafting system that fits the game very well which basically lets you make items from several pieces put together such as rags, alcohol, bindings, etc.  It’s these items that are in short supply.  To add to that, a few of the items use the same resources, forcing you to decide whether you want to play offensively or defensively.  A very nice system overall that compliments the game.  You can also upgrade your weapons with “parts” which are just small cogs you find in the environment.  To upgrade your weaponry you must first find a work bench.  Higher level upgrades require more “tools”.  There are a total of five tools you can acquire to have access to the higher level upgrades.  This system also compliments the game well, letting you focus on making a specific weapon you may like more powerful.  You can not upgrade everything in one run through which forces you to spend it where you want it most.  A new game plus mode is available once you complete the game which is a very welcome feature that not enough games have.  Aside from the weapons you also have another tool at your disposal for dealing with everything which is called the “listening mode”.  This basically works like sonar giving the player a visual representation of sound on screen from enemies and friendlies alike.  Yes, it may sound like a cop out, but it is very useful.  You can turn this off in the options if you please.  Lastly, you can upgrade what’s best described as abilities.  By finding bottles of pills you can upgrade such things as health, distance of listening, crafting speed and others useful abilities.  All these systems worked wonderfully together albeit in real time which makes any of these actions nearly impossible to accomplish in the middle of encounters with enemies.

Part of what makes The Last of Us such an immersing experience is the sheer quality of the visuals.  We are on the eve of next generation consoles, but if you didn’t know better you would think this game is running on them already.  The environments are so dense with detail, they can tell stories on their own.  From dilapidated buildings in abandoned cities to beautifully rendered woods teeming with life, everything looks and and sounds authentic.  The settings all feel very organic with so many little details that add significantly to the total experience, it’s just amazing.  The other part that adds the the experience is the motion and facial captured characters.  The characters speak and emote in such a way, they demand an emotional commitment from you and an emotional commitment you will give them.  Along my journey I met and interacted with several characters, each with with own unique personalities and agendas.  The story is definitely one of the best stories to ever come from a video game with believable characters and motivations unlike anything I have seen before.  Character development between Joel and Ellie is also a thing to behold.  It never felt contrived or rushed, instead feeling like a well written book.  I was only able to play in two to three hour sessions because the story as well as the gameplay was so emotionally and mentally draining.  Although very somber, the story has great pacing to it, never feeling like it dragged with filler.

Not to be forgotten is multiplayer which is surprisingly fun.  Their are only two modes: Survivors and Supply Raid.  Survivors is the typical team deathmatch of four versus four.  Everyone gets one life , but it’s best out of seven matches.  Supply raid is similar, but instead of one life each team get a shared finite pool of lives.  The reason this isn’t your typical multiplayer is that all the gameplay mechanics from the single player transfer over to the online experience.  Ammo is at a premium and items can be produced finding resources around the map.  This adds to the overall tension of the battles as gunshots rang out seldomly with fights sometimes just coming down to melee combat.  This is an interesting and very fun take on the “normal shoot them up” multiplayer that runs rampant in most games, usually playing like something that was tacked on last minute.  This is not the case here as battles tend to be a lot more methodical with teamwork being of the utmost importance.  A fun little meta game is also included in the multiplayer which puts you in charge of a group of survivors that increases with your intake of supplies.  Although fun, at times it feels a bit unbalanced as does multiplayer matchmaking.  Either way the multiplayer is not something that should be overlooked.