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).

Ace Combat 7 2

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.

Ace Combat 7 3

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.

ace combat 7 5

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.

Ace Combat 7 1

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.

Ace Combat 7 7

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.
Ace Combat 7 6

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!

Advertisements

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!

RE2 1

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.

RE2 2

^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.

RE2 6

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.

RE2 4

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.

RE2 3

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.

RE2 8

 

 

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

Rez Infinite: An Astounding VR Experience

Rez 3

Earlier this month, I decided to pick up a PlayStation VR. I already own two Move controllers, as well as a PS4 camera, so all I needed was the headset itself.

 

Unfortunately, purchasing the headset by itself proved more difficult than anticipated. None of the major electronics stores near me offered just the headset and those that did only offered refurbished models. If there’s any piece of electronic equipment I refuse to buy a used model of, it’s a virtual reality headset, because there’s a good chance they’ll get sweaty from use.

PSVR

Thankfully, I was able to snag a Doom VFR headset bundle from Walmart for quite cheap, so I jumped at the opportunity and ordered my own. It’s also the game that I was most excited to try out, so the bundle was a good fit.

 

Within a few days, I was setting up the PSVR. Moving aside some furniture gave enough room for my VR preparation, and I was very excited to finally give this thing a shot.

 

Simply put, PlayStation VR has lived up to my expectations. Sony managed to create a VR experience that is not only affordable, but works well with the hardware. It’s apparent that the resolution of the device’s screen is lower than the competition, in order to function properly on both base PS4 and PS4 Pro hardware. As long as the games on offer achieve a high frame rate to avoid motion sickness, I think this is an acceptable compromise. It is a shame when pop-in and a fuzzy picture quality are commonplace in many games, but this is a cost-effective VR device we’re talking about here, so these drawbacks are unsurprising.

 

So far I’ve played a few games in PSVR, both from a range of titles I already owned with optional VR support, as well as VR-focused titles that I picked up shortly after the device setup. This includes Resident Evil 7, Wipeout Omega Collection, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, Doom VFR, and last but not least, Rez Infinite.

Rez 1

That last game is one I’d like to focus on. I’ve owned Rez Infinite for a while now, purchasing my own physical copy on PS4 after seeing the heaps of praise that the game has gotten over the years. I played the first two levels of Rez without VR, and it’s embarrassing to admit, but I was unimpressed.

 

I grew up with Star Fox 64 as a kid, and at first glance, Rez felt like a simplified version of the Nintendo rail shooter that I love. There was no dodging enemy bullets or weaving through dilapidated buildings to be found in this game, and I felt disappointed by the experience. The music was catchy and the sound effects satisfying, but it wasn’t enough to keep me engaged. Shortly afterward I put the game back in my collection, uninterested in finishing it.

 

Little did I expect this game to hold a top spot as one of my favorite gaming experiences of recent memory.

Rez 2

Playing Rez Infinite in VR not only improved the experience, it made it feel like a different game. I truly felt like I was flying alongside the virus character, bobbing my head to the music playing. Using the headset’s sensor to aim the cursor makes the game feel more intuitive. Winding along the tight corridors during the boss fight of chapter 4 gave me an adrenaline rush I hadn’t yet felt in a video game. But what really sealed the deal for me was playing the brand-new stage for Rez Infinite, simply titled Area X.

 

For the first time in Rez, exclusively in Area X, the player is in control of their movement. Using your head to guide the virus, you are given another level of control. You use the left stick to move forward and backward, and point your head toward the destination you’d like to fly toward. It may sound cumbersome at first, but in practice, it works surprisingly well. All the while, you’re still capable of shooting enemies and navigating your way through a new, beautiful area. There are particle effects aplenty and fantastic visual cues to guide the experience.

Rez 4.jpg

Despite being given a new way to control the game, I never felt lost or confused about my next objective. To put it simply, the gameplay felt seamless. Area X makes me hope to see a new chapter of Rez in the future, but I know the game’s original designer Tatsuya Mizuguchi is probably busy working on this fall’s upcoming Tetris Effect, which also supports PSVR.

 

I can confidently say that after playing Rez Infinite in VR, I can’t imagine going back to the old way of playing. While it’s an experience that probably amazed players back during the original game’s release, I think the updated experience makes it even more engaging for a Rez newcomer such as myself. If you’ve got a PSVR, I can’t recommend this game enough. It’s pretty damn great.

 

Thank you for reading! Have a great week, everyone. 

 

– Matt

Review: Yakuza 5

Review: Yakuza 5

Platform: PS3

Hours Played: 50

Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio

Yakuza 5 3

If you’ve played a Yakuza game before, then you probably already have an idea of what to expect. A brewing conflict within the Tojo clan leads Kiryu and pals to investigate the whereabouts of a missing Daigo Dojima, sixth chairman of Kiryu’s former clan. Kiryu continues to elude his former life as a Yakuza, but members of the Tojo clan continue to harass him as he saves up money to support his self-made orphanage back in Okinawa.

Yakuza 5 1

The story of Yakuza 5 is split into multiple chapters, each one focusing on a single character and their personal story. This is almost identical to the way Yakuza 4 handled its story, which isn’t a knock against the sequel at all – it worked in the previous entry, and it works just as well here. Each character focuses on one or two old and new open-world areas that present a host of sub-stories to complete, numerous shops to explore, and loads of minigames to play. 

Yakuza 5 starts off strong, giving players an entirely new city to explore in the form of Nagasugai. This is probably my favorite among the new areas, as it provides a layout distinct from each of the other locations. The other cities aren’t quite as interesting, with sub-stories that I didn’t latch on to quite as strongly as those in the first city. Still, each of them provides a distinct area to explore, giving each character a substantial amount of things to do.

Yakuza 5 7

Most of the side stories on offer here are fun, satisfying, and feel like worthwhile additions to break up the tried-and-true formula. Kiryu’s driving segments are a standout in my eyes. Instead of focusing on fast-paced races, certain segments of driving have Kiryu taking care to follow the rules of the road. Pedestrians crossing the street, using turn signals to deliver passengers to their destination, and not starting or stopping the car too abruptly are all factors that are taken into consideration while acting as a taxi driver. You’ll be given a grade at the end of each mission depending on the customer’s satisfaction in your driving abilities. I found these missions very refreshing. As mundane as it might sound, acting as a careful driver and being awarded points for your attentiveness is an oddly satisfying experience. There are still some missions that allow you to drive as fast as you’d like in a race against other street racers, but I found these a little more dull than the taxi driver segments, despite the game desperately trying to make them exhilarating.

Yakuza 5 2

I found the story itself in Yakuza 5 to have some hits and misses, yet still remain a positive experience. Among the misses in this tale would be Saejima’s story as well as Akiyama’s. Both of their stories function quite similarly to Yakuza 4, almost too much so, giving me a very small sense of character development in either of them. Their progression has already been shown in Yakuza 4, and 5 doesn’t expand on that progression in a meaningful way. While both characters remain likable and charming in their own way (especially Akiyama), their inclusion in the story feels a little bit forced, with Saejima’s chapter feeling largely separate from the larger plot. Still, they were never an annoyance to deal with, providing some very memorable scenes that have stuck with me long after finishing the game.

Yakuza 5 4

Not a whole lot has been added to Kiryu’s character development, besides the fact that he will do anything to protect the children back at Sunshine Orphanage. I guess that’s fine, despite it feeling rather shallow. Much like Yakuza 4, this story isn’t entirely focused on Kiryu, so this didn’t strike me as an issue.

Yakuza 5 9

In a move that shocked me upon its introduction, a chapter of the game is devoted to Haruka Sawamura, the young orphan girl raised by Kiryu in the first game. She’s pursuing her dream of becoming Japan’s next big pop idol, and she does so without raising her fist in battle.

 

When video games manage to avoid violence as a means of progressing the narrative, I’m often impressed. Most video games rely on some form of combat to move the story forward, and the Yakuza games are perhaps the most blatant culprit. Seeing an entire chapter dedicated to a character that never fights is a risky move, and I think it pays off quite nicely. Haruka’s story is rather light-hearted in the beginning, eventually growing more disturbing as the true nature of the idol industry rears its ugly head. It ties well into the overall narrative, and gives me even more of a reason to respect Haruka’s character. She’s way more likable as an up and coming star than she ever was as a small child in her original appearance.

Yakuza 5 8

The chapter that stands above all others is, by far, the story revolving around series newcomer Tatsuo Shinada. He’s a former baseball rookie that ran into some bad luck on the field, forcing him to retire the bat. Even though I don’t personally relate to Shinada and some of his quirks, his progression is satisfying. Watching him become a better person, despite his status as an adult writer, made his story very memorable. Add in a wonderful finale to the chapter and a clever way that his story ties into the overarching narrative, and Shinada’s tale becomes one of my favorites in the entire series. I hope he doesn’t return in future installments, unless by cameo, because everything about his story feels complete.
Like previous titles in the long-running franchise, Yakuza 5 is a massive game. The amount of side activities, bonus content, and areas to explore in addition to the lengthy narrative is staggering. I played through the entire main story and completed a good chunk of the side missions, clocking in around 50 hours of game time. By the end, I was greeted with a statistics screen that told me I finished about 20% of the game’s content. In comparison to other Yakuza games, that playtime sounds about right, but it’s still impressive how much there is to do in each addition to the series. As soon as Yakuza 5 Remastered hits PlayStation 4 (whenever that will be) I’ll be there day one to relive the action.