How the Game Demo Lives On

In 2019, video game demo discs have all but vanished. There are a few outliers, which I will mention later on. But generally, the free demo of new video games isn’t as popular as it used to be. However, that doesn’t mean they’re all gone – many have taken on a new form. 

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Before we go any further, I should probably explain what a game demo disc is.

During parts of the 5th, 6th, and (briefly) 7th generation of home video game consoles, players could get their hands on a disc containing short trials of recently-released games. One popular way of acquiring these discs was through certain game magazine subscriptions. The games included were predetermined by the publisher(s) involved, and could include anywhere from 2 – 6 free trials for games. These trials would contain only the first hour or less of content found in the final release. Basically, they were long enough to try and convince people to purchase the full product. 

Before I write about what today’s game demo looks like, I’d like to give a brief shout-out to a particular demo that I loved when I was a kid. 

Growing up, a majority of games that I played were on Nintendo systems. I started with the Gameboy Color, graduated to the Gameboy Advance, and eventually, a couple of years into the console’s lifespan I was given a Nintendo GameCube – and it came with a free demo disc. This disc contained a short look at a handful of games, including Viewtiful Joe, Soulcalibur 2, Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg, Splinter Cell, and Sonic Adventure DX.

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Not listed: Soulcaliber 2

For a time, that demo disc was my life; at least when I wasn’t exploring the amazing ocean-dominated world of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. 

But returning to the GameCube demo disc, I played the hell out of the demo for Viewtiful Joe. I was enamored by Joe’s slow-motion punches and kicks he can pull off in that game, all presented in an eye-catching visual style that evokes retro comic books. 

I also played a decent amount of Billy Hatcher, but wasn’t quite as interested in it as I was in Viewtiful Joe. But I most vividly remember playing the demo of Soulcalibur 2 with some friends at the time. We thought that Link’s addition to the roster was the coolest thing ever. The demo only had a few fighters to choose from, and if I remember correctly the selections include Astaroth, Sophitia, Nightmare, Voldo, and Link (my memory is a bit fuzzy, so these could be wrong. Feel free to correct me). But to me, it didn’t matter how many fighters were available. I’d still play the heck out of it.


There’s a few reasons why the free game demo fell out of favor. For one, studies have shown that free trials for games aren’t a guaranteed sale, and could actually lose a significant portion of sales. Although it’s a dated statistic, back in 2013, Kotaku reported that a free demo has the potential to cut a game’s sales by 50%. Obviously, this isn’t a catch-all for every game demo released, and it can be easy to understand why publishers wouldn’t want to risk losing potential sales. 

Another reason for the demo’s dropout could be attributed to the labor cost associated with its creation. It’s easy to assume the process is simple; just chop out a small portion of the game and offer it as a free download, right? Well, it isn’t quite that simple. Because the purpose of a demo is to sell a copy of the game, developers want to make sure the demo is strong – while not becoming an entire replacement for the game’s full purchase.

Take a look at Puyo Puyo Tetris on the Nintendo Switch. It’s a great game that was released shortly following the Switch’s release in 2017. The Switch eshop offers a free trial for players on the fence to give Puyo Puyo Tetris a shot, including short competitive modes against the AI. It doesn’t last a long amount of time, but since it’s a puzzle game, it can be replayed over and over without feeling repetitive.

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I downloaded the game’s demo, played it, and was happy with the experience. However, there was one problem – I was fully satisfied with the small offering available. I played the demo a few more times over the following days, and then my desire to purchase the full game diminished. I had gotten my fill, as they say, and didn’t feel compelled to buy the game anymore. Granted, this may be partly because I was dissuaded by the game’s higher price point on Switch at $40 compared to its PS4 counterpart being sold for $30, but the demo didn’t quite push me over the fence to make a purchase.


The game demo is still around, but it has been altered in some notable ways. Certain big publishers have gotten into the habit of allowing players a short trial of their upcoming games, most frequently referred to as ‘open’ or ‘private’ beta access. Originally, these were meant to stress-test a game’s online servers to prepare for the influx of players on launch day. Perhaps the beta period remains committed to this, but today, it appears that they’re most frequently relied on as a marketing tool and meant to act as a pre-order incentive. In this way, maybe these beta programs can’t be considered a free demo when they require a pre-order to gain access. 

At the time of this writing, the open beta period has begun for this year’s Call of Duty game, simply titled Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. In a surprising move, players need not pre-order the game to gain access – although there are different dates and times for availability based on platform. PS4 players don’t need an active PlayStation Plus subscription to access the beta, meaning it is free to access. Does this make the open beta for Modern Warfare a free demo for buyers on the fence? Possibly, but it is important to remember that things can change from now until launch. The game could see small improvements that aren’t active during the open beta period.

Seeing as a number of modern games continue to promote free or pre-order-required beta access before launch, it doesn’t look like this form of game demo will be disappearing anytime soon.

Thanks for reading!

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REVIEW: Devil May Cry V – “Put Emphasis on SSStyle” #DevilMayCry

Review: Devil May Cry 5

Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC (Steam)

Developer: Capcom

Hours Played: 60+

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The pioneer of the character-action genre is here in full force and flaunting a big, flashy game in the long-running franchise. 

Devil May Cry is back.

There is so, so much care put into DMCV. It’s clear that Capcom wants to appease veterans of the series while drawing in new players. They succeeded in giving longtime fans a reason to come back, yet the draw for new players to dive in is mixed. But for those that decide to take the plunge, they’ll find a heavily rewarding experience with some of the coolest action gameplay seen since Bayonetta 2 in 2014. 

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Existing Devil May Cry fans won’t be surprised by DMCV’s core gameplay loop, seeing as it follows a standard character-action game structure. The game’s story is told across multiple missions, each one consisting of light traversal and exploration elements, plenty of combat arenas, and cutscenes that play at the beginning and end of each mission. Where things get interesting is the number of boss battles in the game. 

DMCV has 20 story missions, excluding the prologue, and a majority of them end by fighting a memorable boss fight. Not all of them are winners, but I was always excited to see where the story would go next. The game has 19 unique enemies, each with its own set of behaviors and attack patterns that are fought throughout the journey. Speaking of which, the enemy designs in DMCV are an aspect of the game that I believe stands indisputably head-and-shoulders above any of the previous DMC games. Many of them stagger when getting hit by the player’s attacks, as well as gush blood after each sword slash or claw swipe. This feedback is incredibly beneficial to selling the feeling of hitting incoming enemies. This is in stark contrast to the puppet foes that Nero fought in the beginning of DMC4; the enemies there just don’t display the same level of reaction to getting hit as the demons do in DMCV. Perhaps that explains my difficulty in diving into DMC4 a couple of years ago. Anyway, the sheer enemy variety and the solid execution of each hit makes for an experience that rarely feels tedious. Their design and animations are all convincing and imposing, each one acting as a satisfying challenge to overcome. 

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Similarly, the character designs in this game are great. Dante is back sporting his classic red jacket, and this time wearing an undershirt, thankfully. Nero has seen a big shift in appearance since his introduction in DMC4, and it’s a much-needed change to avoid comparisons between multiple white-haired characters. The game’s third playable character, simply referred to as ‘V’, is so overtly goth that I can’t help but adore his design. He speaks in a slow, methodical pace, and his interactions with the cast are just delightful. As a whole, the character performances here are a huge step up from previous Devil May Cry games. That may not be saying a whole lot when you remember that one infamous scene near the end of DMC1, but each actor’s performance is solid enough to keep me engaged during the entire playthrough. I’ve never been a huge fan of the character Trish’s appearance, mostly because her design just screams of pandering, and she makes a return appearing more or less the same as she did in previous games. It’s a shame, considering that Dante’s appearance has seen improvement. 

Like a bunch of big-name releases today, there’s a ton of detail put in each of the game’s areas; and just like the high-quality character and enemy models, I have to believe there was a ton of effort put into making each environment full of detail. The only criticism I’d levy against the environmental design is the boring, dull-grey appearance in certain early-game segments. The rest of the game makes up for it with plenty of red, pink, and a few blue-ish areas, not to mention the satisfying amount of dark-red color sprinkled throughout the journey in the form of enemies’ blood being spilled. 

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The combat in DMCV starts off approachable, but eventually grows into something much greater. The beginning of the game offers players control of a select few commands – attack, focus the camera on specific enemies, jump, and fire a gun. That’s it. In a combo-heavy game with 3D movement options, this is a good introduction to get players warmed up to the controls and grow familiar with their moves. The game’s potential opens up once new attacks and button combinations can be bought with red orbs, the game’s currency awarded for slaying demons. But even when players start the game with just a few attacks to execute, the game still provides a healthy level of variety to make encounters full of style. Mixing and matching attacks will raise your ‘Style’ meter, which acts as an in-game score card of how well players perform in battle. Not getting hit by enemy attacks contributes to the style meter rising, but wholly optional moves like taunting also increase it. Taunts might not be the go-to for beginners, but players that have a deep handle of the game’s mechanics will adore all of the various taunts that each character displays against demons.

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Speaking of battles, DMCV even managed to make the end of each one exciting to watch. Many of the game’s encounters end once the player has defeated all enemies in a combat arena, and once the last enemy is finished, the camera will zoom in on the player character, slow down time, and play a short metal guitar riff. It’s a super-slick conclusion to many fights that highlights the feeling that the DMCV team is going for – making the player pull off intricate attacks on demons and feel incredible in the process. 

There isn’t a whole lot for me to say about this game’s soundtrack, besides the fact that most of it is really, really great. The obvious standout is ‘Devil Trigger,’ a corny, catchy, fist-pumping beat that turns each combat encounter as Nero into something special. It’s perhaps one of my favorite songs from a video game in quite a long time. Everything from the intensity of the guitar riffs, to the vocals, and the lyrics making references to in-game mechanics… It’s so cheesy, but I adore its utter sincerity. There’s a reason why fans begged for the song to be played live during the 2018 Game Awards. The music that plays during battle segments when controlling Dante and V aren’t quite as memorable as ‘Devil Trigger’, but they fit the personalities of each character well enough.

 

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One especially great aspect of DMCV’s pacing is the order in which players assume control of the action. Each of the game’s three playable characters offer unique combat styles from one another, but more or less accomplish the same task – kill plenty of demons on the battlefield. Nero gives players the most basic combat at the start, V arrives soon after to provide a shake-up to the formula, and Dante makes his appearance later to overwhelm and confuse anyone who hasn’t played a DMC game before. 

Joking aside, taking control of Dante is where most players will either stick with or fall off of DMCV. Dante is given access to all four of his ‘styles’ from the start, each of which come with a number of hidden mechanics that aren’t explained all too well by the game itself. It should be mentioned that in certain prior DMC games, the four styles at Dante’s disposal weren’t available to switch between at will. Players had to select just one before the start of a mission and stick with it until the end of that mission. This was changed in DMC4, where Dante had access to all of his styles at once. This is true once again in DMCV, where Dante is given free reign over all of his styles, even mid-mission, making for a profoundly confusing experience for those unfamiliar with his moveset. To make things worse, upgrading each style doesn’t include a specific explanation of what exactly was improved, leaving it up to the player to see how their moveset has evolved. In highly technical action games like DMC, it’s crucial that players are informed on the basics of how to utilize each action at their disposal. The explanations for Nero and V’s moves are handled well enough, but in the case of explaining Dante’s play style, the game falls short. This may not be an issue for series veterans, but for newcomers, playing as Dante represents a steep cliff that not everyone will be able to climb. 

Perhaps this is the fault of cramming all of Dante’s style abilities from prior games into one big, slightly clumsy package. By default, switching between each style is accomplished using the directions of the control pad, which results in an awkward experience of removing your thumb from the control stick in the middle of combat. I have to wonder if cutting some of Dante’s moves and incorporating the rest of his attacks into two, or at most, three styles would have made for a slightly more forgiving learning curve. However, I have to give the game’s director Hideaki Itsuno and his team at Capcom proper credit – giving Dante access to all four styles at any time is a bold move that is sure to appease series veterans. 

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With so many attacks at his disposal, it’s insane to think Dante could have anything else to unlock. However, this isn’t the case – Dante, Nero, and V all have plenty of upgrades to earn throughout the journey. Red orbs are doled out at a healthy pace with plenty of opportunities to level up at a satisfying pace. It’s nearly impossible to fully upgrade every character during their first playthrough, so thankfully, DMCV rewards those who stick around for round two. I’d argue that playing this game’s story a second time is even better than the first go. More special moves are at the player’s disposal from the get-go and they have a deeper knowledge of the game’s nuances, making for more confidence when shooting for higher style ranks. 

As a disclaimer, it should be mentioned that DMCV contains in-game purchases in the form of buying red orbs. While microtransactions in full-price games are never ‘okay’ in my opinion, in the case of DMCV, you’d be forgiven for not realizing they’re in the game at all. I don’t even remember how to access the purchase screen while in-game.

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On the topic of items, the extra goodies earned for playing through the DMCV story mode are a special treat. There is unlockable concept art, data logs, a music player, and best of all, an in-game model viewer of every single prominent character, enemy, and boss that appears. The viewer functions similarly to the model viewer in Resident Evil 2 Remake (2019), and since both games are high-profile Capcom titles built on the RE Engine, this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise – but it’s a very welcome one. Each model also comes with a data log describing who they are and what role they play in the game’s story. When I think of games that go above and beyond in providing players with value, it’s additions such as these that stand out in my mind. 

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Since this review is coming many, many months after the game’s March 2019 release, I can touch on one part of the game I was obsessed over for a little while – the Bloody Palace. It’s a great challenge to test your combat knowledge using all of the skills acquired throughout the main story. While it’s a great time overall, and its inclusion as a free post-launch update is great, the mode isn’t without its faults.

The Bloody Palace is a challenge arena that has players choose one of the game’s three characters and battle through 100 rooms of enemies in one life. Each room contains the same type and number of enemies across multiple playthroughs, so memorizing what to expect from each encounter will only take a few attempts. This is both good and bad; I would love to see a randomized Bloody Palace that switches up enemy variety so that each room is different from the last, but despite that, this mode is tough to put down. 

Every 20 levels of the Bloody Palace features a boss fight from the main story that allows players to suspend and resume at another time. It’s a shame that there aren’t more frequent boss fights, perhaps every 10 or 15 levels, considering the number of bosses that can be fought in the main story. But the biggest problem facing the Bloody Palace is how similar each battle is from the last, and how quickly some of them can be completed. Some arenas, including some battles found in the latter 50 levels, can be completed in less than a minute, if that. While it can feel great rapidly blasting through levels, some of it ends up feeling more like busywork than trying to survive a gauntlet. 

Most unfortunately, the battle music starts over from the beginning when entering each arena of the Bloody Palace. This is a huge bummer considering how incredible the battle music of DMCV is (it’s incredible)! I have to imagine there’s a better solution to this issue than starting the music over from the beginning each time, because hearing the same intro over and over can quickly grow tiring. Perhaps it’d be better if the music’s volume was lowered during arena transitions, and quickly  picks up the volume upon entering the next challenge. I don’t know, I’m just spitballing here. The point is, the Bloody Palace is a great, fun time, and an awesome addition to include for free to all players, but it’s not perfect and could use refinement. It seems as if Capcom is finished with additional content for DMCV, but we can hope they fine-tune these aspects to make the Bloody Palace even better.

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Devil May Cry has never been known for having the most compelling narrative. That said, DMCV succeeds in delivering a fun, often goofy, character-driven story that gave me a good reason to root for the heroes. I wish there was a bigger focus on Lady and Trish’s involvement, as their actions don’t really contribute much of anything to the plot, but overall, the story is fine. There are enough callbacks made to previous games in the series without being obnoxious. DMCV feels like a proper, well-constructed love letter to the fans while inviting a new audience to join in the fun. 

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The overall package found in Devil May Cry V is a strong sell. By packing in three unique characters with wildly different move sets, more than four difficulty settings, a bevy of unlockable extras, and a bonus survival mode, my time spent with DMCV lasted much longer than I expected. For the average character-action game fan, Devil May Cry V is a must-play. For anyone apprehensive about learning various button combinations, the game is rather forgiving on lower difficulties – but the challenge that veterans seek in order to reach SSS rank remains intact. 

REVIEW: Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown

Wow, long time no see, huh? It’s been a few months since I posted here. I guess that’s what happens when every day is spent writing at work! My enthusiasm to write once I get home is… Decreased, you could say. That doesn’t mean I haven’t played a bunch of games since!

Alright, that’s enough preamble. These are my thoughts on what works and doesn’t work in the latest entry of the long-running Ace Combat series, Ace Combat: Skies Unknown (2019).

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Refining Flying

Review: Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown (2019)

Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC (Steam)

Developer: Project Aces
Played on PS4 Pro

Hours Played: 40+

Chances are likely that if you’re into flight combat games, you’ve heard the name Ace Combat. The games feature fast-paced aerial combat between fighter jets flying high in the sky, offering players a myriad of planes and weapons to unlock while delivering narrative through shiny cutscenes and in-game radio chatter. All of this remains true in Ace Combat 7, with a mostly satisfying loop that kept me playing more. A healthy variety of mission types make each flight feel different, despite each one’s general goal – shoot down aerial and ground forces while evading enemy missiles during the process.

 

But where this game shines is when objectives are transformed mid-mission. During the latter half of one mission, a fleet of friendly planes are descending on your position. As soon as these planes begin to line up their weapons onto your position, it’s discovered that they aren’t actually friendly units, but enemies who have fooled your team’s HUD to display them as being on your side. The game then tasks you with surviving the initial attack, unsure of who is friend or foe, until your team leader can formulate a plan to fight back. Ace Combat 7 plays around with ideas like this on a regular basis, and most of them work very well. There’s even a stealth mission that tasks you with avoiding searchlights – something I wasn’t expecting to see from this game. There’s a good level of variety.

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Ace Combat 7 runs at a mostly consistent 60 frames-per-second, at least on PS4 Pro. There are some frame drops during hectic moments when surrounded by a dozen or so drones flying about, but the majority of performance is solid. It’s a joy to play, especially if you have experience in other flight-based games, but this one does a decent job of introducing rookies to the Ace Combat formula. Multiple control schemes give both newcomers and veteran players some flexibility in their preferred options. Unfortunately I can’t comment on the game’s handling of the optional T. Flight Hotas control stick, but playing with any modern gamepad should be just fine.

The only criticism I have toward the core gameplay itself is the game’s lack of explanation for how to pull off specific maneuvers. As someone new to the Ace Combat series, I didn’t know special mechanics such as the post-stall maneuver are possible, and had to seek out the information online. The limited options menu during flight gameplay is also strange, forcing players to quit back to the main menu if they wish to turn on or off specific settings like subtitles.

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The game’s story has players control a rookie pilot, codenamed ‘Trigger’ as he battles his way to become an ace pilot across 20 missions. Some of the story’s emotional depth feels lost due to a silent protagonist, but in most cases, frequent radio chatter works around this. It’ll always feel weird when non-player characters continue to shit-talk the player to their face, offering zero options to oppose their claims.

 

Dialogue in this game is exceptionally hammy, with the completely serious delivery of unforgettable lines such as, “It’s time to send Stonehenge back to the Stone Age!” as well as, “Not even a cat has enough lives to follow through your orders.” These are just a glimpse at the incredible line reads present throughout the story’s duration.

 

If this sounds like a negative remark, rest assured, it most definitely isn’t. In a game like Ace Combat 7 where a majority of voice work is delivered through radio conversations, it’s especially important to have enthusiastic characters who make you want to listen to them speak – and in this fashion, Ace Combat 7 is truly successful. The entire game feels so earnest, so entirely sincere in its story and tone, that I’ve come to adore the weird dialogue.

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Sadly, the same can’t be said for the game’s cutscenes that take place between each mission. I found a majority of them to be plodding, forgettable sequences that halted my excitement after finishing a mission dead in its tracks. A few of them are so slow that I felt my eyes glazing over in boredom.

 

I’m all for setting tone and delivering background information for the sake of narrative, but I felt myself growing increasingly uninterested by a bunch of the cutscenes that seem to drag on. To put this into perspective; I love Metal Gear, which has a bunch of story beats that could probably be cut from the games, but I find these extraneous details interesting enough to be worthy additions to the game’s universe, as nonsensical as the overarching plot may become (and is). I think Ace Combat 7 could have done well with some trimming around the edges of its cutscenes, but it isn’t slow enough to stop me from completing the game’s story twice. Thankfully, the cutscenes can be skipped, making it easy to spend hours going for the highest score.

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By the time the credits of Ace Combat 7 rolled, I knew I’d be playing through it a second time. Not even the slow, monotonous cutscenes between each mission made me want to stop playing, thanks in large part to the extremely satisfying gameplay. My interest in the multiplayer portion of the game is minimal, but I did play one match (actually, more like one minute of a match, because I joined a match nearing its conclusion) and the performance was just fine.

 

It’s a shame that the pre-order bonus of including Ace Combat 5 isn’t offered to people who chose not to pre-order, because I’d love to see more from this series.

 

There’s only one thing I have to say regarding the soundtrack accompanying this game. It is incredible. Give it a listen.
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If you enjoyed: previous Ace Combat games or Star Fox 64,

You may enjoy Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown.

 

Thank you for reading. I’ll try to post another review soon. Now that I’ve (finally) graduated from college, there’s more free time on my hands.

Take care!

Review: Resident Evil 2 (2019): Now This is How You Reenter Survival-Horror

Review: Resident Evil 2 (2019)

Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC (Steam)
Played on PS4 Pro

Hours Played: 30+

UPDATE: If you’d like to hear the audio reading of this review, feel free to give it a listen on my SoundCloud page through this private link. I mention this in the recording, but I wanted to practice speaking into a microphone to feel more comfortable being recorded. I really enjoy writing about video games, but I also enjoy talking about them, so I figured an audio rendition with some updated thoughts would serve nicely. Feel free to give it a listen.

Note: This game is a remake of the 1998 PS1 game Resident Evil 2. Having the exact title as the original from two decades ago is slightly… Frustrating, for the purpose of this review. Anyway, enjoy!

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In recent years, horror video games have been a big hit. The breakout success of titles like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, P.T., and Outlast showed that people enjoy the terror of being chased in the dark. Games like these focus solely on eluding the enemy and staying out of sight, offering very few or zero ways to fight back. Satisfaction is rewarded in the form of surviving a deadly game of hide-and-seek.

This isn’t entirely the case in Resident Evil 2 (2019). Akin to previous entries in the series, the player is given a range of firearms to fight back the undead horde. But don’t assume you’ll be killing everything in your path like in Resident Evil 4, 5, and 6, because in this remake of 1998’s Resident Evil 2, there’s a limited amount of ammunition at your disposal. Plenty of planning and careful backtracking is the name of the game. You will have to study the in-game map, remember the location of enemies, and ponder if spending the rest of your shotgun ammo to take down a group of undead in a room you’ll be revisiting is worth it, or if you’re capable of dodging their attacks on your return. These kinds of decisions are how the game tests your skill, and on a larger note, how survival-horror games can effectively test the player’s memory and execution.

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^Claire’s inventory screen from the original Resident Evil 2 (1998)

In this way, the classic trilogy of Resident Evil games as well as RE2 can be somewhat divisive. Backtracking, map studying, and inventory shuffling aren’t what all gamers are looking for in a horror title. But survival horror is what lies at the heart of Resident Evil, and as a longtime fan of the series, I believe these elements merge spectacularly well in the latest installment. It especially helps that the controls in this game are sublime. The game maintains a stable 60 frames per second on PS4 Pro, running smoothly even during hectic moments of action. Shooting feels natural and movement is fluid yet believable. I can’t say I have any gripes with the gameplay worth mentioning here.

 

My level of enjoyment from this game didn’t come from shooting every enemy I came across, but rather figuring out how to get the item I need while spending as few bullets as possible. It’s easy to see that the developers want players to proceed cautiously on their first run of the game, and on subsequent playthroughs, obtain a higher level of skill and confidence to make it through encounters faster than before.

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A Terrifying Foe

If you follow online games media on a regular basis and are aware of RE2, it’s likely that you’ve seen or heard of Tyrant. Or, as fans like to call him, Mr. X. He’s one of the big villains in both versions of RE2, and he is terrifying. I’m afraid that all of the memes surrounding his character post-RE2’s release have diluted his scare-factor for newcomers, but playing through this game the first time caused me to sweat anytime I saw or heard Mr. X.

To put it bluntly, this dude is absolutely horrifying to come across. RE2 makes it immediately clear that none of your weapons will have much effect on this hulking monstrosity, and your best course of action is to run and hide. Couple this with sneaking past the game’s various enemy placements, and it suddenly becomes a mix of modern horror games like Outlast where you are running from an unstoppable force while avoiding weaker enemies that impede your progress. It feels a natural progression of the game’s main environment, the Racoon City Police Station, to never give a full sense of ease. Just when you think you’ve got the place locked down and have a feeling of control, Mr. X makes his grand entrance, forcing more cautious play to avoid his heavy footsteps from closing in on you. Although Resident Evil 3’s Nemesis is perhaps a better known stalking enemy in the series, Mr. X is a formidable opponent that made running through the police station even more exciting. Of course, it also made his eventual defeat more rewarding. If I had to nominate any specific aspect of this game as my favorite inclusion, I’d say everything involving Mr. X fits the bill.

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How Difficult? Just Right

One of the most impressive things about this game, to me, is how flexible its difficulty caters to players. Most people playing this game will probably select the standard difficulty option, although there are easy and hard difficulty modes as well. But throughout my first playthrough of RE2, I never felt like ammunition was too scarce or too abundant. It always felt like I had just enough to push forward in a semi-confident manner. I did plenty of wall-hugging and backtracking, searching every corner of the station to find ammo pickups; but because my shooting wasn’t as precise as it is now, I used more ammunition to take down enemies. In addition to that, I wasn’t sure which enemies I needed to put down or just run past, so I ended up shooting more enemies than necessary. This changed as my skill increased, as I’m now finding my item box in subsequent playthroughs absolutely loaded with extra ammo. To put it simply, the balance feels just right. Newcomers to the series may feel differently, but save points in the regular difficulty mode are abundant enough that dying doesn’t feel like a huge chore.

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I don’t have a whole lot of thoughts to add about the game’s story, since I’ve never found the storyline of Resident Evil games to be particularly deep. With that in mind, I will mention that the voice acting and motion capture work is damn solid. Everybody does a great job conveying the appropriate emotions for each scene, but I think Claire and Marvin are the two standouts in this story. The decisions they make feel real and believable.

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Plenty of Playtime

As of the date of this writing, I’ve reached a game completion screen in RE2 a total of five times.

That might sound like a lot of playthroughs, but there are four scenarios to tackle, two of them shorter than the other two. Even though the plot feels inconsistent with the introduction of these multiple scenarios, the game did a great job by making me want to replay it plenty of times. I suppose that’s what they are, after all – alternate scenarios of a similar story path. On top of the multiple scenarios, a hardcore difficulty level has its own set of records to fulfill, adding even more possible playtime to the counter. My first run as Leon, the rookie police officer, took me around 9 ½ hours, on standard difficulty, but it is possible to beat the game as quickly as an hour and a half, if you know exactly where to progress. Learning the ideal path and following it in an efficient manner is an extremely satisfying endeavor for subsequent playthroughs.

Speedruns of this game have become a surprising favorite of mine. I’m not big into speedrunning, save for a select few games like Spelunky, Titanfall 2, or Dark Souls, but RE2 speedrunning is my latest obsession. Earning an S rank at the end of Claire’s main story path is one of the biggest feelings of satisfaction I’ve felt from a game in quite some time, and I’m hoping next to pull off an S rank in the hardcore difficulty mode.

RE2 7

Gore Aplenty

To put it bluntly, RE2 might be the most violent, gory video game I’ve ever played. As bullets are fired into specific zombie body parts, their limbs can fall off, rendering them less mobile or severely inhibit their ability to attack. The zombies are still dangerous even with no arms, as they can still rush forward and bite the player, but the escape window feels more generous as a result. It’s extremely bloody and gruesome, but doesn’t feel over-the-top, if that makes sense. “Of course rotting body parts and limbs would react like that after gunshots hit them” is the reaction I had while playing. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that the violence doesn’t feel shoehorned into the game for the purpose of shock value. It feels valid and contributes to the dangerous environment. Also, it gives Leon and Claire’s weapons some real weight.

If I were to give one criticism of RE2, I’d say that it’s a shame the ivy enemies (a late-game encounter) can only deal a one-hit kill attack. I’m not a big fan of one-hit killing machines in most games. After all, not even RE2’s most threatening villain, Mr. X, can kill you in one hit. Thankfully, the game has plenty of sub-weapons to help you escape these single-hit kills, but I think it would have been neat to have the ivy enemies perform some sort of ranged attack, similar to how they did in the original RE2.

RE2 5

Wrapping Things Up

If you’re yearning for a game that rewards indoor exploration, ammo conservation, and map memorization, you can’t do much better than Resident Evil 2. I had a blast on my first playthrough of this game, and with the addition of free side story content coming down the road, I can see myself continuing to play this game for quite a while longer. If Resident Evil 7: Biohazard was any indication of where the series is headed, I think fans are in good hands, because Resident Evil 2 has proven Capcom understands the winning formula.

Feel free to share any comments/criticism of the review. I hope you all have a great week! Thank you, again.

– Matt  

End of 2018 Round-Up

Well, it’s been a while since I wrote something on here! Now that the fall semester is over, I figured I’d write something down. My energy has been sort of sapped over the past few months, thanks to schoolwork.

Thankfully, I’ve been able to play a bunch of games in my free time. I’ll share some brief thoughts about each one.

Katamari Damacy: Rerolled

Katamari

Wow, I’ve been waiting to play this one for a long time. I have yet to buy a PS2, and this was going to be one of the first titles I’d grab once I got my hands on a system – but now that it’s on the Switch, I can enjoy fast-paced rolling action in HD.

Side note: This video from Matthewmatosis describes the beauty of Katamari far more effectively than I could hope to achieve, so if you’re interested, give that a watch. He begins talking about Katamari at the 25:55 minute mark. Anyway…

What can I say that hasn’t already been said? Katamari Damacy’s music is upbeat and catchy, the visuals are delightful, the humor is wacky, and the game is fun to control once you get a handle on its unique control scheme. Using both analog sticks to roll a ball, otherwise known as a katamari, forward, backward, and to the side is awkward at first, but now I don’t want to play one of these games using any other control method.

I think the biggest praise I can give this game is that it made me feel a true sense of happiness. As dour as it may sound, there aren’t many games that give me this feeling. I play games for a variety of reasons; high-score chasing, racking up kills or points in online multiplayer games, or experiencing a solid storyline are the main reasons why I play. Of course, I still find fun in these games, and it’s why I play video games nearly every day – but the overwhelming joy that is exuded by games like Katamari Damacy is infectious, and makes me feel like a kid again.

I’d like to end this segment on one especially important note. In my day to day life, I try to avoid hyperbole. That being said,  I’m not sure how else to describe this, so here goes – the end credits sequence of Katamari Damacy is brilliant, and possibly one of the best credits sequences among any media.

For those that haven’t played the game, at the end of Katamari Damacy, after the Prince (controlled by the player) has rolled up most of Japan, the view zooms out to a view of Earth from space. A slow-paced, upbeat and motivated tune begins. The player is given control of a massive new katamari, the size of which is comparable to that of the moon.

As you roll up the world’s countries in this new katamari, the names of each country being latched onto appear near the bottom left side of the screen. It’s a reminder that no matter our differences – our ideologies, our beliefs, our cultures – we all share a place on this beautiful, blue planet. The song’s vocals tell the listener to love one another, because it’s all we have got, and we might as well make the most of this life we’ve been given. It’s a wonderful message that I don’t see in many games, and it’s something that will likely stick with me for a long time.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

smash ultimate inklin.jpg

Hey, it’s a new Super Smash Bros. game!

Unsurprisingly, it’s good. The movement and attacks feel snappy. I’m pleasantly surprised by how much single-player content there is. There’s a spirit (the game’s main collectible) of The Boss from Metal Gear Solid 3, and that made me happy. I clapped when I saw it.

I purchased a year’s worth of Nintendo’s online subscription service to try out the game’s online multiplayer. My online experience was… Decent. I don’t think I’m fit for for competitive Smash.

That’s it.

Battlefield 5

BF5

Man, Battlefield 5 has a bunch of problems, but I can’t seem to put it down. I’ve already reached the game’s level cap of 50, but completing the in-game assignments, issues and all, has me hooked. Movement and shooting feel even better than prior games in the series, and thankfully, I haven’t experienced much lag at all – the game’s online infrastructure seems pretty solid (on my end, anyway).

That being said, there’s a lot of issues that need to be sorted out. These include randomly getting stuck in the terrain, ammo crates falling through the environment, a lack of multiplayer maps, and some bizarre decisions around the assignments (why can’t I track more than four assignments? Why do I have to quit back to the home screen to assign new ones?) make it an incomplete experience. Despite this, I’m having a good time.

Dr. Mario

dr-mario.jpg

As part of Nintendo’s paid online service, a bunch of NES games are available to play on the Switch. As much as I’d like to see SNES games added to the roster, I’ve been surprisingly satisfied with the current selection. Dr. Mario and Super Mario Bros. 3 represent the best of the bunch, in my opinion, and still hold up well decades later. I’ve been on a jam with puzzle games lately; with games like Tetris Effect, Lumines Remastered, and more recently Dr. Mario, I’m reminded of my love for chasing high scores.

All right, that was more than I meant to share, but there you go. If anyone here wants to play Battlefield 5, or just chat, feel free to shoot me a message. I’m playing on PS4.

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday, and have an even better new year. See you in 2019.

Thank you for reading!

– Matt

Review: Marvel’s Spider-Man (Story Spoilers)

REVIEW: Marvel’s Spider-Man

Version Played: PS4 Pro

Hours Played: 40+

Developer: Insomniac Games

! Spoilers !

Marvel's Spider-Man 2

To start things off right, let me get this out of the way. Marvel’s Spider-Man is the best Spider-Man video game ever made. It is exactly what I have wanted to see from a Spider-Man game for ages – a story that isn’t centered around the up-and-coming superhero Peter Parker, instead focusing on an older, more experienced web slinger. After watching multiple movies focus on a young Peter Parker that is struggling with high school or college, seeing him a better grasp of his powers is a breath of fresh air. He has occasional comments that ask supervillains questions such as “How many times have I sent you to prison?” which really hammer home how long he’s been at the superhero gig. It’s a great way that this game stands apart from the Spider-Man’s films.

Marvel's Spider-Man 3

I’ve played enough of the wall-crawler’s games to know that Insomniac’s latest effort is a special kind of triumph for the superhero. I won’t iterate what many others have said about the game’s strengths – namely the great web-swinging, slick visuals, or solid combat – because all of those are great! – but instead focus on some other aspects that really stuck out to me.

Marvel's Spider-Man 7

The storyline is solid, with impressive character performances all around. It isn’t very complicated, which for a Spider-Man video game, is probably the best direction. The cutscenes are high-detail and have some of the most impressive transitions to gameplay I’ve seen in any game yet. Spider-Man and pals are extremely likeable characters with great dialogue, and the writing often rivals Spidey’s movie adaptations. Yuri Lowenthal’s performance as Peter Parker is especially impressive, making this Peter Parker my favorite to hear. Almost all of the dialogue was a solid hit in my book, and I laughed many times at Spidey’s quips. It isn’t a trait that I find very appealing from other heroes, but being a big Spider-Man fan and understanding that it’s part of his shtick, the corny jokes were entertaining.

Marvel's Spider-Man 4

The villains included in this story are all a welcome addition, with each one getting a chance to shine. Doctor Octopus’ appearance at the prison breakout scene wasn’t exactly the biggest shocker by the time Otto Octavius completes his transformation, but leading up to the game’s release, I had no idea Otto was even in the game at all. Seeing Insomniac’s adaptation of the ‘Sinister Six’ was also a treat. I’ve long believed that Spider-Man’s rogues gallery features he best in any fiction, rivaled only by the likes of Batman. And unlike, for example, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 film, Marvel’s Spider-Man doesn’t feel like there are too many villains shoved into the plot. Each one serves a purpose, without feeling like flimsy additions to the story.

Marvel's Spider-Man 8

I was very satisfied with the villains Insomniac chose for this game. Martin Li has a big role in the story, and it’s great that the writers chose a villain that hasn’t had quite the level of prominence as the other series mainstays. His struggle with running the food shelter but also wanting to get revenge on Norman Osborn is really great, and had me constantly questioning what he was going to do next. The scene when he plants bombs at the Mayor Osborn rally was especially striking – my jaw was nearly on the floor when the game hands over control from Peter Parker to Miles Morales, trying to save his dad amidst the chaos. It was surprisingly horrific for a game rated T for Teen – and served as a stark contrast to the happy, go-lucky nature that Spider-Man displays in previous scenes.

Marvel's Spider-Man 6

Speaking of Miles, he was more prominent than I expected. Seeing him get his share of the spotlight, despite not having any super powers yet, was a nice change of pace to break up the action. The same can be said for Mary Jane’s stealth sections! Not everyone is a fan of these forced stealth sequences, but I found them to be well choreographed so that you know exactly where you’re going, and short enough that they weren’t tedious, which should be the focus for a major mechanical shift from the regular Spider-Man gameplay. In that regard, I think Insomniac did very well in breaking up the action with these somewhat slower sections.

Marvel's Spider-Man 9

I think the only part of the story that felt off to me was how quickly Aunt May fell ill and became confined to a hospital bed. One scene showed her start a coughing fit, but I sort of assumed it was a hint that she was overworking herself at the homeless shelter, not that she had contracted the Devil’s Breath contagion released by Otto. Despite this, her death had me on the verge of tears. This is a bit surprising because I wasn’t initially a fan of her performance in previous scenes due to her seeming a little more distant than the Aunt May in other Spider-Man storylines. But by the time Peter is kneeling at her bedside, pleading May not to leave, I nearly had to look away. It was a more emotionally – charged ending than I anticipated. Peter’s choice to save hundreds of people over May was expected, but the execution was top notch.

 

One of the most exciting things about wrapping up this game are the two end-credits clips. The first, which features Miles showing Peter his newfound powers, is a nice touch. It gives me a lot of questions for a potential sequel. Will Miles work with Peter to beat crime together, or will they work separately? Would a potential sequel’s story involve Peter in a mentor role, teaching Miles how to hone his abilities? Maybe Peter won’t even be playable, instead handing the player’s control over to Miles? There are a bunch of possibilities that I can’t help but think of.

 

The second credits sequence poses even bigger questions. It also garnered a bigger reaction from me to my television while watching it. Hint: I might have yelled “No way!” when it’s revealed that Harry Osborn was hidden in Norman’s lab the entire time. I half-expected this sequence to simply show Norman open up a closet, revealing his Green Goblin suit – but instead, Insomniac threw us a curveball that I didn’t see coming. Perhaps the most interesting part of this, however, is the hint of Harry gaining a symbiote within the tank, which makes my mind race toward even more questions. When did he get the symbiote, if that’s what the hint is pointing toward? Does this mean he will become Venom in a possible sequel? Are they going to forget about Eddie Brock, and just turn Harry Osborn into a new, unique symbiote? Is it going to find its way to Peter at some point? Just like the previous end credits sequence, this short reveal has me very excited for the future of this story.

Marvel's Spider-Man
I think I could talk about Marvel’s Spider-Man all day. To put it simply, Insomniac has made a new Spider-Man game that gave me everything I’ve wanted from a new game. The Peter Parker in this story is older and has a better understanding of his powers, the characters I know and love are here but with some new faces, and perhaps best of all, the web-swinging feels incredible. I have fond memories of playing the Spider-Man 2 video game on GameCube, and spending hours simply swinging through New York City. It’s still surprising to admit it, but I’m overjoyed that it’s true – the web swinging in Marvel’s Spider-Man is the best the series has seen. I’m very eager to see what Insomniac Games has planned next.

Marvel's Spider-Man 5

Web Swinging in Marvel’s Spider-Man: Brief Thoughts

Insomniac Games did it. They nailed the swinging mechanics in Marvel’s Spider-Man, released for the PlayStation 4 on September 7th. I had my doubts, but they were quickly set aside as I began swinging in the game. This isn’t a full review, as I haven’t yet finished the story, but I wanted to share a few thoughts I had while playing.

Spider-Man 1

Zipping around New York City as Spider-Man is an absolute joy. There are multiple ways to keep up Spidey’s high speed and momentum; from web zipping around the corner of a building to bouncing off of perches and other obstacles, Insomniac gives players the tools to keep moving smoothly and efficiently. The controls took me some getting used to, but they have now felt like a natural extension of movement. Other open-world games are going to have a hard time keeping me engaged in their movement the same way Spider-Man has. I played The Amazing Spider-Man 1 video game that came out on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 alongside that movie’s release, and while I enjoyed my time with Beenox’s title, the swinging didn’t give me the same rush of enjoyment as 2004’s Spider-Man 2 for the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox. The momentum felt, to put it simply, artificial.

 

In this new game, movement feels natural. Spider-Man is nimble and quick, while still feeling powerful, which is exactly what I wanted from a new title in the franchise. There are a couple of ideas that have translated into this new game from Beenox’s Spidey game, such as time slowing down in mid-air when holding the L2 trigger, but they feel more polished and mechanically useful than before.

 

Keeping Spider-Man moving fast is simple, but what about slowing down when you want to examine the environment? Thankfully, this is also a breeze. Running is mapped to the R2 trigger, meaning you can walk around and slow down the pace when you wish to do so. In addition to this, the L2 trigger is reserved for aiming your webshooters. In mid-air, time slows down, giving you a chance to web zip onto surfaces not normally possible when blasting through to the next destination. In Marvel’s Spider-Man, slowing down and examing the world is something that has happened to me on more than one occasion. The city is wonderfully populated with bustling streets, noisy roads, and active crowds of people. The fact that we can play a game this gorgeous at a solid frame-rate boggles my mind. The people at Insomniac Games are extremely talented people.

 

There’s a million more things I could say about Marvel’s Spider-Man, but I promised I’d keep this brief. I’m dying to see what the next story mission will deliver next.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

– Matt