Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag review

 

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By: Joe Lomán

So I’ve been playing some of the previous generation games that I considered really good and I just finished Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag and I suddenly remembered why back in its day, it was considered the best AC, with some even comparing it to the legendary AC 2. And it makes sense in many factors. Both games came as a sequel to games that, while being fairly praised, didn’t exactly delivered the full potential they promised, leaving their sequels to do the job. AC 1 was meant to be a test to see if people liked the idea, and AC 2 was what the real deal. AC 3, while meant to be a complete game on its own, plus featuring a new engine and a bit more technology, didn’t deliver the experience it promised. But AC 4 was the game that really took advantage of the new engine and became a great experience and seemed to be a new step forward to the right direction of the franchise.

If there’s one thing Ubisoft has done right with their AC games, it’s creating a huge and immersive world that captures the essence of the epoch the games are set in, and this time we found ourselves in the amazing Caribbean seas during the Golden Age of Piracy in the 18th century, with our protagonist being (you guessed it) a pirate named Edward Kenway, grandfather and father of Assassin’s Creed III protagonists Ratonhnhaké:ton and Haytham Kenway respectively, in his journey to discover his destiny as an Assassin that will take him to the Observatory,  a First Civilization structure.

The reason why we are now watching Edward’s story is because in the modern era, the Templars are trying to find said Observatory for their own purposes, with the help of DNA samples from Desmond Miles, main protagonist of all the previous entries of the franchise, and the last known descendant of Edward. Meanwhile, the Templars are hiding their true motives by claiming to be creating a video game based on the life of the pirates using actual historical data.

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This game has the same essence of the previous games. A parkour fan assassin with a huge talent in using the surroundings to blend and perform stealth assassinations in a big open world for you to explore and find hidden secrets. But some of the new features of this entry is that, as a story based on a pirate’s life, you get your own ship to sail across the Caribbean, looting and taking as you please from other ships in really engaging, intuitive and addictive naval combats. You can challenge basically every one of the different ships that are available, which are the Schooners, Brigs, Frigates, Man o’wars, Hunters and Legendary ships which are the closest to boss battles that I’ve seen in the franchise (and they are spectacular). After you’ve taken the ships down you can choose to either sink them right away with more cannon power or board them to take the ship as yours with the help of your crew, which I think is a really nice move.

The sea is full of different islands and early colonies with many some nice side activities, too. Assassination contracts that can be either on foot or naval contracts, with very nice rewards to improve your ship. And trust me when I say that when you see your ship getting stronger, you won’t want to stop upgrading it.

Something else that helps the atmosphere of the game feel unique is that, while sailing the seas, there’s no real background music, but rather shanties performed by the crew! It’s a really nice gesture to make you feel part of the sea. Sometimes I would just sail the seas for a while before the next mission to listen to them. Very addictive.

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The only “down side” for me would be that, as the game takes place in early settlements of the British or Spanish governments, or other uncharted islands, there are not as many things to climb as in previous entries. Instead, the game itself focuses on bringing you more freedom on the sea itself to explore it on your own. And like I said, the sea itself with the naval combats are amazing, but there’s not much to do in the islands themselves other than the assassination contracts, since finding collectibles are not very rewarding and often becomes a bit boring and repetitive in every island.

Nonetheless, there are some cool side activities on the sea itself, too. At some point of the story you’ll be able to dive and search around sunk ships to find loot and treasures to upgrade your loyal ship with dangers of its own, like sharks, eels and jellyfish guarding the place. It’s like you have to act stealthy even under the ocean itself, and with the music that is played on the background, the tense is real.

Out of the ocean, the story itself is a really refreshing change of airs as our main protagonist, Edward Kenway, grew up knowing nothing about his Assassin talents, to which he refers to as “coming natural”, and is actually on the move to his own riches and fortune and occasionally helps folks, like the Assassin’s themselves, for a price. But the great thing here is that, unlike Ezio and Connor’s reasons to join the creed, Edward will find by his own mistakes and losses a more honorable way, and there’s not a more honest story for me, than the one of wanting to do things right and redeem yourself.

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All this is also thanks to the charisma and charm of our protagonist who has a talent with words to get his adored treasure, rum and women. In addition, there are also non-playable characters in the game full of charisma, such as the grand Black Beard who likes to run shows as the Devil himself to get what he wants with the help of Edward.

However, the combat on foot itself continued to be a bit repetitive and boring. While the combo system remained after AC3, it’s still the same, unchanged mechanics where you can feel as if you were fighting against the same soldier every time, and will make you fond of using the stealth mechanic. After all, there’s always charm in being a silent assassin, and even more if the alternatives are boring.

To end with, if I had to choose a few words to sum up this game, it wouldn’t be “plot-twists” or “shocking” or “dramatic”, but rather “charismatic” and “engaging” in both the story and the naval combats. After all, even with the “finding his true self” kind of personal story of Edward’s, the real aim of this game is to portray the easy-going and free-of-rules kind of life that pirates loved to have. And that is done really nicely.

All in all, this was a game that represented a nice change of airs in the story, atmosphere and setting of the franchise, as well as a good step forward to upcoming games before they ran out of creativity. The story is engaging, the naval combats are something entirely fresh and addictive, the charisma of the pirates in the game is unique and essence of an Assassin’s Creed game was in it. If only the combat on foot would have been less repetitive, and the locations had been filled with more interesting side quests and collectibles, Black Flag would have been a master piece. But overall, it was a job well done.

8 stars

8/10

Mass Effect review

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It’s been now 2 years since the new generation of consoles arrived but there’s no denying that the previous one had many games that left their mark in the gaming industry with high honors. Some of those games were undoubtedly the Mass Effect series and today I’m going to tell you about Mass Effect 1, specifically. Bioware achieved massive recognition with its Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic in the original Xbox era, so the hype for a sci-fi RPG, third person shooter adventure was huge. Released in 2007, one year after the launch of the Xbox 360, it quickly began as one of the most revolutionary games that focused on a story that could be tailored by the players’ choices. Of course nowadays decision making in video games are not rare by any means, but Mass Effect was the pioneer of a mechanic that would become the base of the whole franchise. Instead of opting for some good and evil ending, it focused on saving the galaxy, but with the actions you thought were the best. And some of those decisions meant sacrifices. Big sacrifices that would shape the whole game in many ways.

Story

It all takes place in the year 2185 when some years have passed since humanity discovered ancient technology that allows them to make Faster Than Light (FTL) travels and now they have joined the galactic community alongside other species of aliens who live in peace… most of the times. Commander Shepard has been sent to investigate a strange archeological discovery in the human colony of Eden Prime that will end up giving humanity the respect of the whole universe. When things go awry due to an agent of the galactic Council, Saren, gone rogue, Shepard is promoted to Spectre, agents that work as the “right hand of the council”, to travel beyond the stars to find and stop Saren from the evil plans he has.

So far the premise is simple. You are the good guy who has to hunt down the bad guy. But the beauty of this game comes in the form of which path you take to achieve that goal. Since the very beginning you are given the choice to make your character male or female and give him/her a pre-service history which can be Spacer, Earthborn and Colonist. Then, you have to choose one class for your character: Soldier, Infiltrator, Adept, Vanguard, Sentinel and Engineer. And finally, you have to choose a psychological profile that can be Sole Survivor, War Hero or Ruthless. If you are familiar with Bioware games by now, you might very well know that each customization you make for your character will affect the game in several ways, even being male or female will characters react different to you.

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However, the choice that will have the biggest impact overall is the class. You’ve got many choices for it and all of them give you different combat abilities. Soldiers are specialized in all sorts of weapons Engineers have a talent for manipulating technical equipment and use it to their advantages in combat. Infiltrators have weapons and abilities to disable the enemy and find advantageous positions. Sentinels combine tech and biotic abilities to create a strong defense to the squad. Adepts are experts in biotics, which are used to manipulate objects and enemies telekinetically and create other ways of manipulating the environment. Vanguards are brutal opponents that combine weapons and biotics deliver fatal strikes to the enemy.

After your character has been created, the real thing gets serious. You just made a step into one of the probably most detailed stories in gaming history to date, and I include the new generation. Yes, being the good guy who tracks down the bad guy is far from being new, but the magic here is why everything is happening. It’s been a while since humanity found a way to explore the universe and coexist with aliens after a harsh welcome and the game has an incredible way of telling you the details that makes you stay in awe for hours. There’s a huge number of sources of background story scattered around the different places you visit but the main one is the dialogue that the characters have. They all have a unique past that it’s inevitable not to stay and listen to all they have to say. After every mission, characters will have even more to comment about their life or the mission and how everything fits into the current plot of the game.

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Almost every time you find or hear a new concept or event narrated by a character, a codex will be updated with additional background story. If you are a person who doesn’t care much about the plot, you can skip all the background story and even the conversations to go right into the action without anything stopping you. However, we strongly believe that the story of this game has enough power to cause a huge impact on every kind of gamer out there. We, who are gamers with strong love for plots, lost ourselves into the magnificent background information in both the codex and the conversations with the characters.

But that’s not all! Remember we said you could choose the path you wanted? Well, that was not joke. Virtually every conversation you have with every character will give you several options to choose what to reply. These options will appear in the answer wheel that will have different outcomes. The left side will give you the option to investigate more about the story (there is too much!) while the right side will feature the paragon, renegade or neutral answers. These are the ones that will have a huge impact on the story, as they will determine not only who likes you or dislikes you, but also who will remain by your side and who will step aside, and some of these choices are not forgotten, carrying on to Mass Effect 2 and even 3.

 Gameplay

To complete the game, a series of missions will be available to you, and how you play them will be determined by how you personalized your character. By experience, we can say that the classes we enjoyed the most were Soldier and Adepts, as weapons and biotics, which could be describe as the magic equivalent of other games, have a very strong impact in not only the gameplay, but in the story as a whole. They give a special touch to the mechanics of the game that provides a new experience to use what would be magic in fantasy games in a way that suits perfectly a sci-fi shooter. After all, both weapons and biotics complement each other to be used simultaneously, instead of being individual skills.

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Of course, not all classes have those properties, so that’s when one of the most ambitious, yet polemic, elements of the game becomes relevant. The combat mechanics are both the most interesting and weakest points of Mass Effect due to several reasons. Throughout the game you choose 2 of your squadmates to accompany you on every mission, each one being a different class to complement the strengths and weaknesses of your Commander Shepard, but what makes it more dynamic is the fact that you can command each one of them to use one of their unique skills on an enemy, if you are ok with pausing the game for a brief 3 seconds, or let them do it on their own.

However, the AI was very questionable. When you let your characters fight on their own, they won’t exactly be very bright, as we found ourselves witnessing running into enemy fire just to keep dying every time. In addition, Shepard own controls are a bit hard to get used to, especially the cover system. You need to simply run and stick to the wall so that Shepard takes cover automatically. The only (serious) problem is that very rarely will he understand that he has to take cover, resulting in several frustrating seconds of your time until you get it right. This happened to us mainly when running, as Shepard can only sprint when in combat, and when he does, it’s more difficult to direct him to the place you want to take cover on, since probably you will end up taking cover in another, much closer wall you didn’t want to or even noticed.

The combat mechanics might look outdated for today’s standards by far, but, while it’s true that you’ll need a few minutes, you might forget a little bit about the difficulties of it and even enjoy it. Undoubtedly the ability to tell your squads which power to use is a great mechanic worth trying; but we saw ourselves in need of ordering to take cover and not move so that they didn’t get killed too much

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And of course, this is an RPG game, so plenty of customization besides your character will be there. Hundreds of weapons, mods, armor and other upgrades are scattered around the whole game which will have a real impact on your own and your squad’s combat. Of course, some of these upgrades only work for specific classes, so, even if your Shepard won’t use one, your squadmates gladly will! There are, however, too many of the same objects, and, since it’s hard to keep track on them, you’ll have to be checking a lot of times your inventory to discard some of the upgrades to not reach your limit capacity.

Another questionable factor is the side quests. There are plenty of them out there, some which requires you to visit other planets. These quests are very rewarding, as you get very good upgrades or even more plot details, but the quests themselves are a somewhat repetitive to be fun.

Atmosphere

We have already mentioned the great impact the story provided by the characters and codex has on the atmosphere of the game, but Mass Effect is a sci-fi game that uses many other resources to provide an incredibly rich atmosphere. You travel to other systems of the galaxy to fulfill your missions, and once the galaxy map becomes available to you, you get another proof of why this game feels deeper than you will probably think. You can’t visit all the planets, but all of them have a unique description that gives the game a sense of depth that makes you wonder about the real diversity of outer space. And the music is another strong factor that makes the whole space traveling feel peaceful and mysterious, while pushing you to delay your mission a little while and check out the planets and their descriptions.

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While doing that, you might encounter some planets you can land on. But this is probably the only disappointing point of the atmosphere of the game because the planets you can land on, while providing some upgrades, they are very tedious to explore and repetitive, so it’s better to just forget about them and continue exploring the galaxy map.

Conclusion

The first of the Mass Effect games began as a great hit for the Xbox 360 and we can clearly see why. The story and atmosphere made this game feel extremely complete from beginning to end. Sure, there were some drawbacks, too. If you haven’t played this game yet, it’s likely that you will struggle to get used to the gameplay for a few minutes, but once you do, the reward is a wonderful experience. All the characters feel alive and the dialogues are so detailed that you can learn something new from them almost every time you interact with them and the choice-driven system makes the flow of the game feel yours. It’s a game we strongly recommend to the whole community.

Ranking: 9

9 stars

 

Life is Strange in-depth, spoiler FREE, review

By: Joe Lomán and Damla Karadenizli

Life is Strange is a unique game. Aside from some Telltale’s inspiration, it is clear that this is a game very different from the rest. It’s been a long time since story-telling became the central focus of some games, as well as having the player be responsible for their own choices, but no game has ever addressed this the way Life is Strange does. Dontnod gives the players the ability to rewind time, but not like every game where you die and respawn. In this game, rewinding time has real long-term effects. Some good, some bad. It is a story told in an atmosphere incredibly human that feels heartwarming since the very start. Sure, it’s far from being a perfect game, because there are so many times where it loses itself, but there’s no denying the emotional experience this game offers is quite memorable. It is a very deep story about friendship that at the same time focuses on telling you that rewinding time is a great power… but it is no game either. It’s a 5 episode journey that makes you think about the real consequences of “what if I had done things differently?”

Like I said, right from the very start you’ll instantly get the vibe that this is no game you’ve played before. The main menu appears with the Life is Strange musical theme that made me think of a gentle soul that can be broken with ease, which is what we foresee of the game. Hoping into the game itself, the atmosphere is quite unique. It’s probably the strongest element of the whole game. Firstly, the music accompanies the game in a very appropriate way. The cel-shaded graphics are a very charming sight for sore eyes. The characters are very memorable and they make you get along well with them, as well as hate others for how big their role is. Perhaps the voice acting is the only polemic topic about it, but it doesn’t make the characters less appealing.

This world is seen through the eyes of a teenager, Max, who is driven by hopes and dreams and aspires to be a great photographer one day. That’s why she went back to her hometown to study Photography at prestigious Blackwell Academy, where the only thing she cares about is having a normal, yet awesome, university life. But as you can guess, it is everything but normal. After a long day of school, Max only wants to clear her head a bit in the bathroom, but ends up witnessing a girl being shot right in front of her eyes. She screams as she rises her hand in desperation and next thing she knows, she’s back at her classroom, restarting her day exactly the same as some minutes ago… She just discovered she has the ability to rewind time.

Ok, you might say “Is that it? That’s how it starts?” and you have all the right in the world to ask that kind of question, since it is, literally, how it starts. But please, don’t get disappointed just yet. Yes, the introduction feels out of place. Instead of awing us with an epic introduction to make us excited about being able to rewind time, it feels like Dontnod just said to us “Here, you can do this. Have fun”. The good thing is that most of the rest of the game makes you forget about those awkward 5 minutes.

The world is not only about teenage problems. Something weird is going on in Arcadia Bay. Max has a vision about a potentially catastrophic eco-disaster, and somehow she believes everything is related to the mystery of a missing person that apparently everyone loved or hated, as well as to the “gift” she didn’t ask for. All this journey will make you discover the truth about several different mysteries.

And it is because that power to rewind time is what this game is all about. Max finally has a chance to impress people by redoing her actions and answering the right questions, as well as help people in distress. Max is living every teenager’s dream: the opportunity to go back in time and do the right thing. Situations where Max would normally give an embarrassing answer that would make everyone think she’s a weirdo are transformed at her own will having the complete opposite effect. Previously knowing what was the right thing to say, she now is becoming popular. It’s even adorable to see her excited about helping others because she knew what was going to happen.

But like it was said before, there’s more to Life is Strange than just a teenager’s life. And this is because all this is achieved through one of the main reasons for the game to exist. Those who have already played Telltale games are familiar with this kind of gameplay mechanics: choice making. It is quite obvious where the inspirations of this mechanic came from. A la The Walking Dead, most of the dialogue will have different options for you to choose what to say, including the option to keep asking more background story to the characters or going on with your life. But Life is Strange does a remarkable job at being its own original game instead of a carbon copy of another one that follows the same philosophy.

These are the key moments where rewinding time does its job at its best. After you have chosen to mock a character for being rude to you before, Max herself will doubt and wonder if she should have chosen to comfort her, motivating you to rewind and see what that other outcome is. But guess what? There is no “good” answer. Having the ability to know different short-term outcomes leaves Max with a lot of doubts as to what the long-term consequences will be. It is an extraordinary move from Dontnod to make us realize that the fact that you can undo your actions doesn’t always mean you’ll find the answer. You finally have the “but what if…” answer, but will a choice you make always be like you thought it would?

One might think that we can have the game already solved since the beginning but, actually, once you have left an area you’ll realize you can’t undo those previous actions anymore, a clear warning that you’ll have to be responsible for what you decided to do.

Again, Walking Dead style, your choices will not be for nothing, as at the end of every episode you’ll see all of your choices in the screen and the statistics of players around the world. However, unlike Telltale’s game, something quite nice is that you have two screens that show your decisions: one for the major choices, one for the minor choices. As you can guess, the major choices are the ones that will impact further episodes, but it is a nice touch to see that minor choices also have their own importance.

In addition, even during the course of the game, you’ll easily identify which ones are the major choices because you’ll be interrupted by a time-freeze with two different answers. It really helps the suspense grow, as you instantly know that this time you really need to think things through. You will still be able to rewind and choose a different answer, but it’s quite cool to know which moments will be key for future progress.

Before we continue, I’d like to point out that I personally believe it was way more dramatic that TWD gave us always a time limit to decide something without the chance to go back. But I also believe it is kind of cool to think that the time-freeze screen is some kind of self-defense mechanism for Max to avoid choosing wrong because, you know, she can now manipulate time. Which means extra points to Life is Strange for being original on its own.

And of course, it’s not that the only times you have interaction is through the dialogue. There are many things you can do to get distracted from the story. Max is a photographer, so you will have some opportunities to photograph some trivial scenarios that Max thinks are worth photographing. You can also speak with other characters and learn more about the story behind Blackwell, Arcadia Bay, or the mysteries itself. So you do have some freedom, too.

What Dontnod didn’t exactly took advantage of was the chance to create puzzles that involve this innovative mechanic. There are a few ones every now and then, but it was a great opportunity to fully exploit the potential of Max’s new ability. Fortunately, the plot itself steals the show most of the times so it is not a real problem. Although if you are the kind of gamer who prefers puzzles over story… maybe this is not the right place for you.

Regardless, as you keep progressing in the story, even since the first episode, you’ll understand why this game feels so humanly touching. As you explore the university and talk with your classmates, Max will always have a comment that suits her teenage spirit because she struggles to understand why things are the way they are, as well as expresses why she thinks something is cool or not so cool, including her crush on her favorite teacher, Mr. Jefferson.

After playing a little bit with time, the situations she just shaped the way she wanted will make Max’s best childhood friend, Chloe, reunite with her. This is the exact moment when everything begins to have a purpose. Chloe’s life has been too hard since Max left Arcadia Bay 5 years ago and now that they are together again, with the help of Max’s new super power, they are planning to solve all of the mysteries together. Max and Chloe’s relationship is something that keeps the magic of the game going.

Nonetheless, as we mentioned before, the game doesn’t have the best start. We are now talking about Episode 1 itself. It was not a bad episode, per se, because it had its moments. For example, discovering the awesome effects that rewinding time has or the emotional moments when Max and Chloe are reunited, the first interactions with very memorable characters that will make you wonder if they have a real purpose on the story and other crazy and twisted plot points that clearly are worth playing. But we really thought it needed something more because it never stops being just an introduction instead of an episode itself. Too many questions are aroused, and not in a “wow, what will happen next?” sense of the word, but in one that confuses us as to what is going on.

As the episodes go by, however, literally everything begins to change. During the course of the second episode is where we started to understand the real purpose of the world of Life is Strange. All those warnings about “choose wisely…” before the game even starts make sense at this point. More exploration, more character development, more background story, more time travelling stuff and definitely more jaw-dropping moments will totally make you instantly fall in love with this game. And we kid you not! Everything the first episode could have done better is now present in episode two. And the first incredibly shocking ending will be there right in front of your eyes.

Moving on, as you progress in the game with further episodes, the story becomes way too engaging to be true, honestly. Now that we know what to do and where to go, and are confident enough about our time travel power, everything plot wise becomes more engaging.

However… during the course of the episodes, there will be moments that are slightly boring because some of your decisions will not be dramatic anymore, as they are strongly related to previous choices you made, so it’s like you already know what to choose without thinking too much… at least that’s what happened to us. What makes it worse, too, is that as you progress even further… decisions become a bit too linear for a choice-driven game. There will be less moments where choices have drastically different outcomes. You will see the real consequences of some of your decisions from previous episodes, which is good while it lasts. But it really feels like Dontnod forgot a little bit about the impact of your potential choices to tell the one single story.

Which is definitely not exactly bad! The story itself is what will force you to keep playing and playing. Yes, choice making will definitely lose its relevance (until some point), but that doesn’t make it a bad game at all. As you keep going and going, everything starts becoming a plot twist with many shocking moments. And one thing that is for sure is that every single episode will end with a SERIOUSLY shocking cliffhanger. The story and the mechanics might lose their charm every now and then, but if there is something Dontnod does right, is to create a wonderful ending that makes you forget about those moments and continue to the next episode.

As you proceed to the conclusion… well, we have to be honest with all of you. We honestly believed it ended right the way it started, having very little impact on us. The conclusion is probably the most tedious part of the game. Don’t get us wrong, it isn’t a bad episode, either. There are epic and extremely heartbreaking conclusions to theories that you will probably make up along the way. But we do believe that it didn’t pay proper tribute to what the rest of the game had been so far. In any way, the endings will definitely satisfy you. Yes, you heard us right: there are different endings. So, we do recommend you: choose wisely.


Verdict:

Joe

I think Life is Strange is a game that carries inspiration from other games, but does a great job at being very original on its own. The story takes its time to make sense, but once it does, it never (and I mean NEVER) stops being engaging as it has a lot heartwarming and heartbreaking moments. Plus, the ability to rewind time and undo your previous action really becomes something truly innovative in video games. I also want to give extra points to the game for not making the whole game “solved” by undoing every one of your actions. The fact that Max’s powers have their own limits helps you be responsible for every choice you make. The bad thing I’d point out is that sometimes the game loses its way and forgets about what it was supposed to be. I also believe this time travelling mechanics allowed a lot of opportunities for many puzzles. It has some, yes, but it doesn’t feel like the game took proper advantage of that. However, we know that the game’s main priority is the story. And that is performed in an amazing way. The atmosphere, I mean the music, the art style, the characters, everything reminds you of how humanly real this game feels.

Score: 8/10

8 stars

Damla

Everyone knows that if the theme is “time travelling”, chaos is inevitable. Life is Strange is a game that shows us how complicated and harmful it is to play with time even if it seems  enjoyable and amazing to have the ability to rewind time, in the first place. Like it has been said before, there is more to Life is Strange than a teenager’s life and dreams. It’s a detective story, a thriller experience and more. Another point of view is the environment that the game has. In every episode, you see new places and realize that the game really focuses on making you see how the small pieces of the environment are important, from simple graffiti that act as a warning to the posters on the walls. And this game has secret messages in the background; these are the things that make the game more wonderful. Even if it has faults, Life is Strange has heart and that’s why it’s a game that must be played!

Score: 8/10

8 stars

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U review

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A classic that keeps getting better every time.

Nintendo is undoubtedly the best when it comes to keep old franchises fresh and alive. Super Smash Bros. is one of those. This is one of Nintendo’s bestselling video game franchises ever and with the 4th entry it seems everything will remain that way for a very long time. And this is because Smash Bros. now has more and better stuff. If you thought you had seen it all in Brawl or even in Melee, think again.

The franchise is already unique for its gameplay. It’s not your typical fighting game. Unlike the rest, there’s no health bar that decreases every time you get hit. Here, it’s the other way around. Your life percentage increases as you get hit and the higher the number, the easier it is to smash you out of the stage. When there’s no way you can return to the stage, you lose a life. That has been the whole concept of the saga throughout its 16 years of life but every new game has managed to brought something that turns out to be exactly what it needed to be better.

The thing that always gets a lot of hype is the new characters that join the Smash family. It is the first thing everyone notices. We haven’t seen such a big increase in the number of playable characters since the jump from Smash 64 to Melee. And it’s always a joy to see how Masahiro Sakurai manages to make every single character fit in the Smash universe, no matter where they are coming from. That includes the guest characters Sonic, Megaman and Pacman.

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The fighting commands are very similar for every character, as the veteran players might recall from previous games. It’s basically common knowledge now that if you hold the A button while aiming sideways, upwards, or downwards, the result will be a very strong hit in that direction, if you press B while aiming upwards, you’ll get your third jump which is also an attack and so on. Perhaps where you will see more difference is with the B button attacks. Those are basically custom moves for everybody. Mario has his fireballs, cape and FLUDD, Link has his bow and arrow, boomerang and bombs, etc.

However, I’m not trying to say that the other moves are the same for every character. Even if the gameplay obeys a similar pattern for everybody, every single one of them comes with his own fighting personality and unique set of moves that match their essence seen in their respective games. And it is portrayed so well that you sometimes forget about the pattern, even with almost 50 characters to choose from!Smash-Update-31Jul15-1

I personally had a lot of fun trying out Lil Mac. As a boxer, his moves match those of a boxer while having that fantastic touch of a Nintendo game. Even his dodges look realistically fun! Other veteran characters have been polished a little, too. The most significant example is Bowser. He now has a vastly more intimidating look both while standing, running and attacking, which really helps him to be seen as one of the most iconic villains in video games. Everybody will have fun trying the veteran and new guy’s attacks because it seems Nintendo never run out of ideas… most of the times.

Even with the arrival of so many characters, some of them look slightly…. Unnecessary. Brawl made us thought that 100% clone characters would never be part of the franchise again. But now, it seems they came back for more. Dr. Mario makes his reappearance after being absent in Brawl with the same attacks as Mario. Lucina is a new Fire Emblem character making her debut as a complete clone of Marth. Link and Toon Link with slight differences, Pit and Dark Pit…

The strange thing here is that there are other characters whose alternate costumes are a complete different character, but with the same moves. These include Bowser Jr, being his alternate costumes his 7 brothers, the Koopalings, male Robin and female Robin, Male Wii fit Trainer and female Wii fit trainer… I said it was strange because they could have easily made Dr. Mario an alternate costume of Mario, and so on. Lucina is a great character but nobody would have gotten angry if she had been an alternate costume of Marth. I somehow think they are kind of stealing the show for other characters that could fit in better as separate fighters than these ones. Daisy and Waluigi, for example, are the only ones missing from Mario’s main characters, and it would have been more fun to watch them fighting than Dr. Mario. But that’s just my opinion.

Now, enough with the characters. Let’s talk about the different modes to play Smash Bros. The newest attraction in this game is of course the 8th player Smash. There probably was a time where most of us thought that 4 players were enough but Nintendo has proven us wrong! Even if it can’t be played online, if you manage to get other 7 people play alongside you, the fun is quite huge. Especially with these giant stages that have been here since Melee, like the Zelda Temple or Kid Icariu’s Palutena’s Temple. Even better, now you can choose from a wide variety of controls to play with! You can choose among the Wii U’s gamepad, the Wii’s Nunchuk and Wiimote, the Gamecube Controllers, and even the Nintendo 3DS is a controller! Although for this one to work the player has to own the 3DS copy of the game. Nonetheless, the options are a lot!

The Classic Mode is here again (there’s a reason why it is called that way) but with huge differences. If you’ve played previous Smash games you might remember that it was all about choosing your character and fighting several fighters with some mini game stages throughout 10 levels. Well, those days are over. This time, you have to choose which group of characters you want to fight through 5 rounds. With no mini game stages anymore. It is a funny way to fight most of the characters, since very rarely you fight 1vs1. It might not be as memorable as the other classic modes featured in the previous games, but, it is utterly fun as it is the hardest challenge you will ever see in a Smash Bros. game.

You probably know by now that Master and Crazy hand are always the final bosses in this mode, however, if you beat them both with a difficulty level of 8 or higher, you will have SEVERAL boss fights afterwards, which will definitely test your fighting skills. This is also due to the fact that if you die, and choose to “continue”, the level of difficulty lowers down half a level. Which means, you only have 3 tries (9, 8.5 an 8) to beat all the classic mode, because if you beat Master and Crazy hand with a difficulty level of 7.5 or lower, you don’t get the rest of the cake.

It’s not exactly that you miss a lot, but it’s quite a challenge even for experienced gamers to try it out!

The All-Star mode is here again as well. It basically works the same way but with a slightly different, funny addition. Now, you will fight groups of character that will appear in their reverse chronological order. Starting from the newest (Greninja), to the oldest (Mr. Game & Watch). It definitely helps you see what a vast history video games have.

The only mode which is “missing” this time is the story mode. I was extremely disappointed when I heard the news from Sakurai that there wouldn’t be a story mode. Not because of the plot, per se, but because of many other things. First of all, in Brawl, the Subspace Emissary was a great way for us to try and get to know every character of the game in stages based on the actual games the characters were from. Secondly, the trailers for every newcomer were absolutely amazingly beautiful. Before hearing the news, I thought “Oh my god, the cutscenes in the story mode will look completely gorgeous”. I mean, watching Link and Marth fighting Shulk in an intense swordfight, Mario and company facing the koopalings… all of these left me wishing for an epic story mode.

Masahiro Sakurai even admitted that the reason why the story mode wouldn’t be present was because he was disappointed that many people decided to watch those Brawl’s cutscenes on the internet instead of discovering them by themselves in the game, which was clearly his intention. However, there’s something odd here. Nowadays, with YouTube, Twitch and all, every game is vulnerable to that same situation and it’s not going to change any time soon. But, anyway, the fact that there’s no story mode this time doesn’t mean any less points for Smash 4. It’s sad for me, but it doesn’t make it a bad game at all, since there are so many other things that will keep you busy for a while. The events similar to those from Melee are back, the home run contest, the Multi-man smash mode, etc. are there as well, and with so many characters to choose from, things become way funnier.

One last thing I want to talk about is the atmosphere. The graphics have been polished in a way that it is quite more colorful than Melee and Brawl, however, it doesn’t make it look less mature than what it is. On the contrary, it is quite a sight for the eye and in HD it just looks gorgeous. The music has also changed, and, even if it’s not as memorable as Melee and Brawl’s main themes, it surely gives an epic touch to the game.

So, all in all, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is a remarkably complete game. There are more characters that fit in this universe so well, and there are so many mode to play that you never get bored of it that Sakurai has proven us that when it comes to Smash, the more, the better. For all this Super Smash Bros, for Wii U receives an outstanding score of 9. Perhaps there are some things that could be better but there’s definitely nothing missing here.

9 stars

Rating: 9.5

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Mario Kart 8 review

Mario Kart left its mark very early in gaming history and it still continues its legacy as one of the best racing games of all time. The 8th entry in the series really surpasses everything we have seen before by combining everything that has made Mario games a blast in the last years.

The first thing you’ll ever notice is the amazingly gorgeous visuals in this game. Nintendo has chosen to use a more colorful art style in their games since a long time ago. Mario Galaxy, Zelda: Skyward Sword and even Zelda U, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS and now Mario Kart 8; all of them feature more vivid colors with stunning lightning that the games will always be a pleasure to the eye. If you combine this with the fact that this time Nintendo has made the tracks even wilder, with lots of U turns, inclines, slopes, and even upside down stretches that defy the laws of gravity, the game ends up being a visually master piece.

Boy, Nintendo really likes messing up with gravity. Well, its inclusion in Mario Kart couldn’t be more welcomed! Also featuring the gliders that made their debuts in Mario Kart 7, the anti-gravitational effect really becomes a very good addition to the series. The tracks that put all of this to the test are honestly quite fun and original. There are the typical 4 cups tournaments, every one more difficult than the previous. But there was something that caught my attention: there are a few tracks that don’t require you to make 3 full laps of it. Instead, it’s one single lap, but divided in three sections. I thought that was really original because that way, the whole track is different and it’s more difficult to know what is expecting you ahead!

As it has been custom, there are also other 4 cups that bring old tracks from previous games to this race. But what’s cool this time, is that not only have they been remastered, they have also been added all those gravitational effects, with wilder turns and so on, which is very impressive. There is the classic Moo Moo Farm that, in my opinion, is the best looking track of the whole game. It looks taken right out from a movie!

Ok, enough with the tracks. Let’s talk about the characters now. The whole Mario Party team is back again as usual, but now there are more characters that decided to join the party this time. We’ve seen the koopalings lately in a lot of games. Ever since their debut in the 90’s, they didn’t make a return until Super Mario Bros. Wii, and it seems they decided to stay. For as much as I like those characters, there’s something that I didn’t really agree very much with. I honestly think Nintendo included some unnecessary characters this time. First of all, I’m not saying the koopalings are not welcome, of course they are! But it still is a little bit weird not to see Bowser Jr. when all his brothers are present. And there’s also Metal Mario, Gold Pink Peach and Tanooki Mario as DLC. They are not 100% Mario and Peach clones because they are heavier, which makes you rethink about your kart customization, but still, sometimes I feel those slots could have been given a better use with other independent characters.

I mean, Bowser jr., for a start, Birdo, maybe even Petey Piranha and King boo, if they wanted a heavy character so badly… I don’t know, I just think there were more options that could have made things better. Having a lot of koopas and skins for Mario and Peach makes it feel that there are very few racers once the game has just started. But that’s just my opinion.

In any way, once the race has just started, the game will instantly become the best Mario Kart you’ve ever experienced. Because, well, I’m not saying I am the best player available, but I thought that, once you had already mastered the controllers and tracks in previous Mario Karts, it was pretty easy to say goodbye to the competence and stick with the first place forever. But this is definitely not the case here. CPU will always be right behind you, and everybody will get deadly items to attack you at any time. It’s extremely easy to go from 1st place to 7th place, I kid you not. Speaking of the items… the classic items we all know are back, but now there are three new additions to the sets. The boomerang, the piranha plant and for the first time ever, something to repel the blue shell. Oh, those disgraceful moments seem to be over now for whoever is in 1st place. Once again, they are more than welcome. The more the better. Except for one specific item…

I personally think the coin couldn’t be more useless as an item. Coins in the game help you unlock new kart customizations, so it’s good that you grab them as you race. However, there are already too many spread throughout the tracks that when one single coin comes out of the item boxes the feeling you might get is no other than “why? I so need a red shell, a mushroom, even a green shell would be nice at this point!!” But no… you get a coin. But oh well, I think not everything could have been perfect.

But of course, if you are new to the series, don’t worry, there’s always 3 different modes to play, as the veterans should know very well by now: 50cc, 100cc and 150cc. The higher the number, the faster the game will be and the harder it will get, so, as usual, there’s always something available for newcomers and veterans alike.

Which takes us to the wildest addition ever in a Mario Kart game: the 200cc mode! Ever since it was announced as a free DLC everybody got excited and with a reason! Let me tell you, the speed this time is crazy!!! If you think you would never need to use the breaks in a turn or something, think again, because this new mode will definitely put everyone’s skills to the ultimate test. I don’t care how much you think you know the tracks by now… you will definitely end up crashing a lot, falling a lot, and struggling to get in the first places for a while.

In fact, this new mode just confirms that everything in the game has become faster. Even when you fall, good guy Lakitu will take you back to the stage pretty fast. Because you WILL need to get back to the track fast, trust me.

Finally, you know what other cool DLC is available right now? Yes, you got that right. Now the villagers from Animal Crossing and Link from TLOZ have arrived to the party with some tracks of their own! Is this a good thing? Totally! Especially when the developers were running out of ideas of what characters to implement. Guess it will become Super Kart Bros. one day?

So, all in all, Mario Kart keeps evolving as a series that feels fresh every time a new game comes out. Everything that was already cool of every Mario Kart game on their own has come to make this 8th entry one of the best racing experiences ever. Even with some minor things I still don’t agree with, the visuals are stunning, the tracks are wilder, the speed has increased, everything has changed for the better. With all being said, I am sure that Mario Kart 8 deserves a solid 9.5.

9.5 stars

Rating: 9.5

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Watch_Dogs review

After making a great change in the industry of games with its parkour assassin’s back in 2007, big Ubi wants to repeat its achievement with its first game for both previous and next gen consoles. In its new attempt to bring a fresh, new open-world game, Watch Dogs was born, a game where your phone and hacking skills are vital to fight for what you hold most dear. The premise was simple: to “go beyond the limits of today’s open world games”, according to director Jonathan Morin. Did they manage to achieve their goal? Well, let me tell you… The hacking mechanics is something very original and does make you feel you have the power to control everything. However, that alone does not make it feel entirely unique. There’s something uncomfortably familiar with other games Ubi has released and even some ideas taken from other types of games.

We follow the story of Aiden Pierce, one of the “modern world magicians”, as he likes to call himself due to his hacking skills, in the modern city of Chicago. On a common day in Pierce’s life, he tries to steal some bank accounts with his phone and his friend, Damien. Suddenly, they find another hacker around their area who steals information from them. Concerned about what he might do with that info, Aiden flees with his family (his sister, nephew and niece) but a gang shoots the car which results in a car crash that eventually ends up killing his niece, Lena. He is now willing to fight for his own justice and find the people responsible for the murder.

All this is thanks to the one thing he does best: hacking his way through. The whole game revolves around that idea. Ubi gives you Chicago ran by the operating system ctOS, a phone with practically endless battery (everyone’s dream, right?) and the possibility to access all of the people’s information with the press of a button. It might sound scary in real life, but Watch Dogs makes it feel genuine for completely different gaming mechanics. Everywhere you go in the city of Chicago you will find remote access to cameras, explosives, and every single person’s phone so you can steal money or just have a little fun reading some of his private habits. However, all of it makes sense and becomes your primary weapon when you have to infiltrate some of your enemies’ hideouts. That way you can see through the cameras what is at your surroundings that can be useful, or even detonate some explosives via remotely to annihilate or just distract guards, giving you time to sneak in without making much trouble.

It’s always a lot of fun and there are a lot of ways you can sneak your way in. Nonetheless, if your thing is shooting your way in or out, you can always choose to do that. There are plenty of weapons that can enhance that experience. Now, if you combine those two, everything becomes better. If a guard hears you, you can either find another cover and move around, or hack anything from your surroundings that will catch his attention. There will always be a lot of things. Once you have set up your plan, it’s very much your call whether if you want to kill them or just ignore them. In addition, you will be asked to solve a puzzle once you have finally reached the file you are looking for (because it’s everything about computers) which never gets old. The whole hacking system is always entertaining.

That might be what the game does best but, sadly, it’s not enough to cover the whole thing. Everything else doesn’t exactly deliver a memorable experience. To begin with, the story lacks emotion, suspense, drama, etc. Also, Aiden is by no means a strong character; his personality is too cold. Sometimes it is justified and it is a good thing for the story, but sometimes it just makes him be obsolete. His voice acting doesn’t help, either. The real charm comes from her sister and some of his sidekicks, but they are never around so not many things motivate one to empathize with Aiden.

Making you feel like a real hacker was very pleasant, but the whole world makes you feel, on the other hand, that you have done these things before. There are some side missions that are actually quite original, like trying to find QR codes throughout the city, align them, and find some secret info, but everything else has its roots from Assassin’s Creed, yet, the painful part is how noticeable they are. The map will show you places of interests and collectibles after you have visited a ctOS tower (which acts as your viewpoint). Whenever you approach an enemy area, a message is displayed on the screen as “Warning: you are entering a restricted area”. Finally, right after doing your heroic stuff, it’s very probable that you will end your mission with a car chase, just like most AC games (except for the car).

The car chases are in part entertaining, actually, because even at driving you get access to use the streets as booby traps for whoever is after you. It comes in handy because it is very difficult to disappear from their sight without using the environment, as they are always too close from you.  Albeit, it feels weird that you can’t shoot from the car. I understand it must be already hard enough for Aiden to drive with one hand and have his phone on the other, but when your enemies are shooting at you, and there are no traps around the streets, the situation becomes harder. I found myself crashing at them a lot of times until I had finally killed them. It is practical but, still, something felt empty.

There were also some minor technical issues here and there. They might not be that vital for the game to be tedious but sometimes it becomes annoying. I had many problems with the illumination, as, whenever  I was trying to get out of a building, the game had trouble darkening the effect of the lights, which was a little bit of concern due to the fact that there were enemies outside waiting for me and I couldn’t see anything.

Everybody had a lot of expectations for Watch Dogs, including me. It delivers many good things, like the gameplay system and all the hacking mechanics that give you the power to control the whole city. But, unfortunately, the rest of the elements which the game is composed of don’t really live up to those expectations. The story is nor complex nor memorable and the protagonist doesn’t help much, either, and the world doesn’t have the sensation of being original. If you are more into gameplay, it should be a fun game for you. However, if your thing is the story of a game, you should probably look somewhere else. If you are neutral, you might have fun, but it surely won’t last the whole time.

Rating: 6.8 – Fair

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Batman Arkham Asylum review

Superheroes have a long and appealing history in everything surrounding comics and even movies but their role in the gaming industry has had a lot to be desired… until now. There are very few exceptions that have managed to get some praise and Batman: Arkham Asylum is not only one of those exceptions, but probably the best superhero creation ever in the history of video games. It’s so good to see that the same love that has been put in the new Batman films is also present in the consoles. There are already thousands of Batman fans out there and every single one of them, and whoever isn’t one already, will undoubtedly feel very pleased knowing that Rocksteady studios has created a superhero game loyal to the Batman legacy while remaining self-reliant of its movies counterparts with a gameplay so intuitive, fun, and innovative that you will finally feel… Batman.

It’s so rare to find these days a superhero game that isn’t just a copy of the movie that has just been released. However, some of the charm that makes Arkham Asylum different from the rest is the fact that it doesn’t rely on what has happened in any of the movies. It is a story made exclusively for the game written by Paul Dini, a very familiar face of several DC animated series, and the result is probably what you might not expect after seeing how the Batman cartoons and movies have been carried out. It is definitely not something made to be cute as the whole atmosphere that comes from the environment, the characters and the story itself is a very dark one. Now the villains take their role of seriously bad guys to the limits by the use of a strong language and explicitly putting forth their wish to kill Batman for real. But, actually, this is not a bad thing; it totally helps the experience to feel even more real since it is based on an asylum.

Arkham Asylum starts with almost no background story. Batman has just captured Joker and taken him to the asylum as he has done with every other bad guy he has come across with. However, Joker seems extremely passive about the situation. He is not concerned about being captured, as if it was all planned. And actually, it was! Joker now sets free inside the building to complete his distraction and carry out his plan of destroying Gotham City while Batman is trapped in the Asylum as well. From this point on, after a just couple of minutes, you are in control of Batman’s movements to find Joker and the rest of his allies that will do anything (and they mean it) to stop you AND kill you.

As you can see, the whole plot might look a bit simple and it might also be true but the most important factor that makes it worth it is how its narrative is presented. Part of this accomplishment comes from the terrific voice acting of other familiar faces of Batman with Kevin Conroy as the Dark Knight, Mark Hamill as The Joker and Arleen Sorkin as Harley Queen. It’s really nice to see that the same people are being asked again to represent their characters because it makes the game feel connected to the whole Batman universe that is already known in the animated series. But these guys are not the only ones that know how to talk in an attractive way; essentially all of the remaining characters, including villains and even support characters, helps everything taste exquisite.

Right after you are free to start your journey across the asylum the main attraction in the game is instantly shown. This game is extremely focused on every single ability Batman has as an actual superhero. The first thing you will notice is the combat mechanics. Batman is well known for being quite a fighter face to face and this is where you can totally take advantage of it yourself. It’s a simple system, very few buttons are required to deliver fascinating combos and that makes it real easy to learn. Nonetheless, the real challenge comes in the form of many enemies at a time. You will still use the same mechanic of directing punches to a foe and use your reflexes to block the guy next to you that wants to punch you too. And just in case you get bored of that just wait until the enemies with guns arrive because that’s the moment when you will truly test your skills because Batman takes real damage from them.

Thankfully, Batman is not just all about martial arts. He is very well equipped with weapons that you can strategically use to get rid of enemies in a way they would never expect it, such as the Batarangs. But the Arkham Asylum is not only meant to fight fist to fist, as you will utterly feel in love with being a silent assassin clearing your way out from the shadows. All the gadgets he brings with himself let him sneak around using the Batclaw to attack from above and an explosive gel to reveal hidden paths and to harm nearby enemies as they pass by. To make things even more interesting, as you progress in the game you will earn enough experience to purchase more ninja skills and enhance your whole arsenal as well as your detective vision.

The detective vision is the last element that fulfills the totally-being-the-Dark-Night experience. Bruce Wayne’s “mental perfection” has always allowed him to be the best detective ever and you can see that through his eyes now. By using the detective mode, the whole place changes. Walls likely to be destroyed are light out, just as the characters that are foes in red and how many with guns are there and hidden secrets that you will definitely spend a lot of time on. The Riddler is the one that wants to test your detective skills and intelligence because he leaves secrets and collectibles throughout the whole island. With the use of riddles that pop up in the screen every time you visit a new room (and literally, every room) there are plenty of things to do on the asylum to distract with.

One last final touch worth mentioning is the fact that the studio has made this game accessible for newcomers of Batman’s story. Even with very little real plot, some of the collectibles that find around the island (and some thanks to The Riddler riddles) are some information about recognized characters both heroes and villains of the franchise with their story, their first appearance info and what they are doing today. You will also come across some recordings that reveal some additional background stories for some of the characters like Harley Quinn’s twisted story interviewing patients when she was one of the psychiatrists.

It’s evident the amount of support that one of the most acknowledged superheroes of the time has also been shown enough love to shine in the video game industry. Many already recognize it as the best superhero video game of all time and with utter justice. It’s good to be part of a story that is not only a copy of a movie. It is a fresh script made specifically for gamers to know what being Batman is all about. And it is done in a terrific way as all his skills that he is known for are implemented with extreme detail. It seems superheroes in video games still have a very promising chance to stay in the business.

Rating: 9 – Outstanding experience

Tomb Raider review

There will always be a special feeling whenever a new title of a long-running franchise comes out, especially if it is one that has conquered the hearts of gamers for many generations already. And the hype can’t be any greater when the franchise we are talking about is one that has one of the most iconic video game characters as the protagonist, Lara Croft. She is one of those characters that will never get too old to be loved. Lara has appeared in several installments as the brave and already-well-experienced-at-surviving heroine we all know but now Crystal Dynamics have come up with a brand new Lara that is different from the rest of her alter egos. In this game, we witness the new Lara developing survival skills from zero while facing more danger than ever in a reboot that feels fresh and more real than ever.

It is not the first time we have the chance to see a Croft learning to be a badass but the way this time it is one is quite unique. It all begins with Lara being so enthusiastic about finding the truth of the mysteries surrounding the lost kingdom of Yamatai off the coast of Japan. As she and her colleagues and friends reach their destination, a huge storm destroys their boat leaving them all stranded in the island. Unfortunately, Lara landed on a different location than the rest and is forced to get over her innocence and build up enough courage to venture into the island by herself if she ever wants to see her friends again and find a chance to escape.

From this point on, everything is focused on Lara’s journey to discover her brave side. Since the very first time we are able to have control of her, it’s inevitable not to feel compassion for our young adventurer. Her most exciting expedition yet has been ruined leaving her apparently helpless and without any real convincement that she will survive. What enhances the tension are the sudden dangers that she is forced to face so soon. But these are the moments in which Lara starts using her young, but gifted, instincts to survive. And that is everything that drives the story forward because as we see her growing up Lara passes that feeling on to the player.

And that is a remarkable achievement done by Camilla Ludington, who plays the role of new Lara throughout the game. Her acting is outstandingly convincing in every portion of the story. The transition from the injured and scared young girl to the now ferocious killer is something worth witnessing. Nonetheless, although the talent is quite evident, it is true that sometimes her constant screams end up being slightly frustrating. But, after, it is a Tomb Raider game. Constant dangers are to be expected. But while Lara is still learning to withstand them, it gets a little tiring at times. Yet, it’s nothing that truly affects the overall experience in the end.

Another aspect to highlight is that Tomb Raider is no stranger for gun fighting. Weapons in this 2013 edition play an important role and definitely have an impact on the gameplay experience. Since very early on the game, you will notice that silently sneaking around is one of Lara’s greatest talents and it is very probably that you end up fond of that mechanic like I did. And that’s because the bow and arrow can be used in a very efficient way that makes you feel like the real predator hunting its preys. However, there will be times when a little use of the machine gun or shotgun will be necessary. Sadly, this is one of the sections where I feel Tomb Raider lowers its quality. Gun fighting can be fun at times, but it doesn’t feel as fresh as other aspects due to the fact that it really doesn’t offer anything new (apart from some clichés).

The gameplay mechanics have its pros and cons. To begin with, controlling Lara throughout the whole game is rather satisfactory. She feels so light whether while jogging or climbing and how she automatically squats to take cover feel so natural as a whole. On the other hand, the difficulty level is rather controverting. To be entirely honest, I felt that difficulty level decreases significantly over time due to a number of reasons. The game teaches you right at the beginning how to purchase skills to improve your combat and survival instincts even more. At first it is cool to help Lara become a brave adventurer, but with the time everything becomes way easier as you keep purchasing the goods. That, and the fact that the ammo is found nearly everywhere doesn’t exactly make it a challenging quest from start to finish.

Last but not least, the world of Yamatai which the story takes place is very nicely done. The game is linear but there are several collectibles spread across every section of the map, including hidden tombs, that might make some players want to find everything because hidden details about some background story are featured in those items, while others might just ignore them and go on with the story. After all, they are not vital. Nonetheless, it sure helps the whole world not to feel empty or too narrow.

In every aspect, Tomb Raider is without doubt and extremely enjoyable experience. The experience of seeing Lara discovering her own wild spirit is something quite touching due to the great acting of Luddington. Sadly, the great involvement is not present in the whole game. It is to thank that Tomb Raider doesn’t rely on clichés for the story, leaving only the relevant elements to be told, but it regrettably does rely on them on some of the gameplay characteristics. Still, it is so pleasant to be part of a game in which a character full of history in the industry of games such as Lara receives as much love as in the previous installments of the franchise. It is a successful reboot, no doubt, and will leave many, including me, anxiously waiting for future sequels.

Rating: 8 – Definitely worth it

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The Walking Dead: Season One (the game) review

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A videogame is made to make us feel that we can be the hero of the galaxy or the best in certain sports, and with time the immersion a game can provide to a player has become even greater with the advance in technology but also in how the story is told. Nowadays, many games let you choose what you want to say, but the outcome will not make a significant difference compared to the other possible choices, which makes them practically useless. Other always follow the same pattern: to have a good ending or a bad ending. The Walking Dead: The Game has surpassed the traditional mechanism of how the player can experience that he is part of the narrative world by fully relying in what makes everybody unique: decision making. The difference now is that everything you choose will have a consequence. Everybody likes to know that their decisions make a difference and this game delivers that satisfaction with a story so deep that the emotional connection the player will feel from the beginning to the end will be like no other.

Based on the comics of the same name, The Walking Dead: The Game is a point and click adventure game spread in 5 episodes but far different from others you have probably played. Zombies are almost everywhere these days and almost every game about them will involve gunfire or another way to crush their brains. But this is not a typical kill-all-the-zombies-you-can kind of game. The Walking Dead is all about involving oneself into the story of some regular guys who have no idea of what’s going on and are just trying to survive by any means possible. Everything begins with Lee Everett, our character, on his way to prison until the police car overturns and the next thing Lee knows after waking up is that a zombie outbreak has spread. While trying to find help, he runs into a little girl named Clementine who hasn’t known about her parents in a little while and becomes his responsibility from now on.

As you progress, you will meet more people with whom Lee and Clem will share their fight for survival and the real core of the story-telling will come to light: decision making. In most of the conversations you will have to choose what to answer. Based on what you answered, the characters will remember that you only care about yourself or also about them. It sounds very simple, yet there’s another circumstance that causes the experience to be tenser than what it already is. You will have limited time to say something and if you don’t say anything, even that will have its own repercussion, as everybody will see Lee can’t make a difference in situations like these. And it gets tougher, because the moments when you will have to intervene with your own answer also involve very difficult and emotional decisions. There will be times when you have to choose which side you are on, who you save and who you let die. What makes this so special is that the tense, the fear, the responsibility will be yours. You will feel it with every decision you choose.

And that emotional experience comes most of the time thanks to young Clementine. Sometimes in the gaming scope, having to take care of somebody else is a burden, especially when that character can’t defend himself. However, that’s not the case here. Clementine is not a regular kid, not even for a videogame character. She’s not dumb, nor a girl that can take full care of herself. She’s fragile, she needs somebody for protection, and that person is Lee. Nonetheless, throughout the story, taking care of the child will no longer be Lee’s concern, it will be yours, because it’s impossible not to become fond of Clem as she is forced to grow up rather quickly. Her innocence definitely makes you rethink the answer you already had in mind. She is the main reason why the characters will feel there is still hope, and so will you.

During the moments of relative peace, you will have the chance to explore the place around you. Aside from some small puzzles to keep going through the story, you also have the opportunity to get to know the other characters. Perhaps a strong consequence will not come out from these small chats in the story, but it will definitely affect what you think about them, since it’s hard not to feel compassions about the others. Out of that, the gameplay will always follow the same formula- explore a little and continue with the main campaign.

Although most of The Walking Dead is done brilliantly, every game has its own flaws and the technical aspect is where this one has its ups and downs. There’s nothing wrong with the cel-shaded graphics, they look wonderful. Neither is the outstanding voice acting in every character (especially the sweet voice of Clem). The problem comes with some unexpected bugs in some of the sequences of a scene. Some lag, a relatively long loading sequence from scene to scene and a weird, awkward freeze of Lee while the action went on sadly represents a component that makes you wake up from a wonderful dream to the reality that it is just a game. Nonetheless, it’s not that it happens all the time, not at all. It happens once in a while, but it is still noticeable.

Everything that is integrated in The Walking Dead: The Game makes it feel it is a different game. The fresh choice-consequence mechanic is something that gamers will totally be grateful for, since finally there will a real proof that your character and everything around you will answer to your decision. And this is accomplished in a very big way thanks to the emotional connection the player will feel throughout the game due to the always optimistic Clementine that makes hope live one more day. Yes, the game is not exactly designed for the gameplay. I thought I would get bored really fast due to that but the truth is I haven’t been that constantly immersed in a game for a very (and I mean it) long time. Telltale created one of the (probably) most emotional experiences in the gaming industry and it definitely left everybody with the desire to try season two when it comes out. Let’s hope it allows the gamer feel part of the narrative as much as season one did.

Rating: 9.5 – Outstanding experience

Alan Wake review

“Keep the lights on”

It is not the tale itself what makes it good, but the way it is told, and Remedy definitely surpassed themselves in the area of how to tell a story in the art of videogames. For this, the use of plot twists, memorable characters, outstanding voice acting and unique combat mechanics became the focus points to create a game where the main theme is the constant battle between light and darkness. An Xbox 360 exclusive at first and later also a PC game, Alan Wake came from Remedy back in 2010 and 2012, respectively, to put the boundaries of narrative in games to the test for those who are fans of story-driven games.

This time the protagonist is (you guessed it) Alan Wake, a famous writer that has gotten a little sick of fame and decides to go on vacation with his wife, Alice, at the calm city of Bright Falls, Washington. What they don’t know is that the countryside has some dark secrets. What was supposed to be a relaxing time away from the pencil and paper suddenly becomes a total nightmare as some paranormal presence starts invading our main character’s lakeside cabin to hunt Bright Falls and kidnap Alice. When Alan goes to find her, the situation eventually becomes even stranger. He soon realizes it is all part of a horror story he supposedly wrote, but can’t remember doing so. What makes his journey more special, though, is the fact that he is just an ordinary guy, not a hero, nor with any special powers but the will to fight the Darkness and save his wife, no matter the cost. From this point on, Alan’s trial throughout the game will unfold many mysteries surrounding Bright Falls and himself while building up courage to pick up a gun for the first time in his life.

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Alan Wake is all about the story. It is a brilliant combination of a book, a movie, and of course, a game. A big part of the story is narrated by Alan himself (from the book he supposedly wrote) as you play and all of the cinematics are so Hollywood-like that they have a big role at enhancing the immersive experience of the game. All this is shaped into six TV-like episodes where every one of them ends with a cliffhanger and a title screen while playing some of the outstanding licensed music the game has. Then, at the beginning of every new chapter, you get a “Previously on Alan Wake” cutscene that tells what happened in the last episodes of the game. Although well done, the only thing missing is an auto save feature that occurred at every ending of an episode (it only happens until the beginning of the next) so that every time you turned your console on the first thing you saw was the introduction for the new episode. It might not be something strong enough to make it a bad game, but it would have definitely enhanced the TV series-like experience. However, every other aspect of the game is brilliant to fulfill the strong writing.

From the very start to the very end, there are a lot of things that immediately catch your eye no matter what your current mission is. As you take control of Alan for the first time, it’s inevitable that the astonishing lighting of the sky and the beautiful architecture of the city and the woods don’t take your breath away. The voice acting of all the characters is also crucial to transmit everything they are feeling to the player and it is done in a phenomenal way, especially with Alan during his tale telling and his desperation to find Alice. Even Barry, Alan’s best friend and sometimes sidekick, delivers some of the funniest moments in the game. His appearance, by the hand of his humor, helps the player feel positive in a hard situation like this. It might sound exaggerated to some, but, again, this game is all about the story and it every single detail is carefully taken care of.

Story aside, the gameplay is rather creative, although for a limited time. It is still a shooter where you have some conventional weapons like a handgun and a shotgun but they alone will not help you get rid of the your opponents. The secret is to keep the lights on. The enemies come as normal men (called “Taken”) that have become possessed by the darkness. Some of them will have axes, others will throw it at you, some others are oversized, which means, they are tougher, and later on there will be some others that can run at the speed of light. So, the first thing to do is to get rid of that dark force in order to shoot them to death. For that, the game introduces some unique tools that are our first source of light and our very best weapons. Considering Alan has no experience in gun fighting, all this combat system results in a wonderful experience of using anything you can to survive. Your flashlight will become your best friend every time there’s an enemy nearby. It, by itself, can take away the surrounding darkness of a foe but it’s light can be boosted for a faster kill. To do so, the flashlight will also need its own “ammo”, which are Energizer brand batteries. What’s more interesting and another creative touch is that the flashlight also serves the function of your aim. So, not only does it kill the darkness of your enemies, it also takes away the need of a conventional on-screen aim.

Apart from that, you will be provided with other ordinary tools as cool weapons, such as the flares, which are very handy every time you are literally surrounded in every single corner. It’s huge light makes the baddies go blind for a moment and fall back, giving you time to do the same so you can rethink your strategy. If there are too many the flare guns and light bangs arrive as the equivalent of a grenade launcher and hand grenades, respectively, with the ability to eliminate a lot of enemies at once. However, after they become vulnerable, the shooting process is a little boring. Most enemies need 3 to 6 shots to die but the game doesn’t ask you to have a precise aiming. Your aim can be a few centimeters away from their body and still receive the shots. The only enemies that don’t need bullets to die are barrels, cars, or other unanimated objects that are also possessed. They only require a constant beam of light and it’s way easy to avoid getting hit by them because it takes them around 5 seconds to charge at you, giving you enough time to dodge them rather quickly. No challenge there, where’s the fun?

Anyway, if you happen to be out of ammo in the middle of a fight you end up helpless, there’s no punch button or anything else but the “dodge” move. Your only way out is to run towards the magic light pole (the checkpoint) so the baddies go away. This actually helps the atmosphere of the game to make you feel constantly haunted until you find a source of light to scare away the monsters. However, it is forgotten at around half of the game. As the story progresses, all types of ammo start to appear everywhere. There’s no real need to look for it because it shines right in your face. Even the loading screens advice you to “look beyond the obvious places”. Well, apart from the ammo and the weapons you find (again) in every chapter, the only relevant collectibles are some script pages (snippets of the horror story he is trapped on) and some thermos (with no real use) but after such a linear path with nothing but trees around you, a cabin with an opened door at your left or right and an arrow, which appears only with the beam of your flashlight, that points to a cave or another cabin right where you are heading to is more than obvious, to name a few.

In other words, the whole gameplay experience loses its charm over time. Every chapter is all about town-woods with “taken”-town and so on, the enemies are recycled every single time, their appearance becomes very expected that you lose the suspense, ammo is found everywhere, there are no new weapons past chapter 3 and even the trigger points to unlock the next path are re used a lot. The only “new” things you will get is Barry or the local Sheriff as your side-kick at some points of the story, but nothing else. Sadly, all this makes up the majority of Alan Wake but fortunately the story is strong enough to leave you in suspense and encourage you to keep playing at until the very end of the game. Yes, that much.

Alan Wake is a game that has it all: a powerful storytelling, creative and unique gameplay mechanics, gorgeous visuals and outstanding soundtrack. Unfortunately, this game doesn’t provide everything at the same time. The first part of the game is filled with the nicely innovative combat system, while the second half brings a gameplay already too repetitive to be fun. In some kind of way both parts have their own charm so the experience doesn’t become dull per se, nonetheless, it might not be fair for people with a high interest in the gameplay because they would probably get disappointed after the first few chapters. In conclusion, not every game has a story strong enough to make you keep playing even if everything else has gone down. This game is definitely innovative, no doubt, but if only it had kept that innovation for most part of it, it would have definitely been close to perfection.

Rating: 8.5 – Definitely worth it