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Ryse: Son of Rome

The word that best describes Ryse: Son of Rome for the Xbox One is anachronistic. Even though the game is rife with hilarious historical inaccuracies, it’s the gameplay and story that feel out of time and place.

You play Marius, an ancient Roman legionary whose family is murdered by barbarians, and thus swears revenge against all barbarians everywhere. But Marius learns there may be more to his family’s murder than it seems; a conspiracy that threatens to destroy the empire.

You’d think we’d be tired of this kind of story by now.

It’s your typical “hoorah” male power fantasy that we as a society apparently still haven’t grown out of if games like Ryse and Call of Duty are any indication.

It’s a shame the story is so insipid, because the acting and motion capture is anything but. Marius may be the blandest man ever to wear a skirt, but he looks and sounds great. People actually look like people, and emotions and expressions are convincing.

Except when they smile, then they kind of remind of the clown from Stephen King’s It.

Ryse’s set pieces, from the streets of ancient Rome, to blasted battlefields, to the lush forests of Britain, look wonderful, but they’re not much more than a series of pretty hallways. You can’t explore these environments, and consequently they don’t feel real.

ryse1
Ryse’s combat is as dull as the man you’re controlling.

This is a problem a lot of old games dealt because they had to work with limited hardware. You couldn’t go backwards in Super Mario Brothers because the Nintendo could only handle what was on the screen at that moment.

But now, my phone has more processing power than the computer in the shuttle that landed on the moon. Ryse isn’t limited in scope because the Xbox One can’t handle it, but because its developers seem to think this strict, directed experience is what players want.

This mindset is further reinforced in Ryse’s combat, which is as dull as the man you’re controlling. You know the drill: Attack, attack, big attack! Attack, attack, big attack! The game tries to mix things up by throwing in some gory finishing moves, but there aren’t very many of them.

I mean, once you’ve seen one guy get his arm cut off, you’ve seen them all.

Probably the most interesting mechanic is the ability to command troops using only your voice and the Xbox One’s Kinect. You can order troops to form up, launch a catapult, or fire a volley of arrows. Voice recognition is pretty accurate as long as you speak loud enough, but they obviously think you’re going to be saying “fire volley” in a loud, authoritative manner, when you’ll probably just mumble it so your roommate doesn’t think you’re watching really weird porn.

Even this becomes pretty rote after a while. Every once in a while you’ll gather your troops and form phalanx to advance on an entrenched enemy, but once again, you only do it when the game tells you: You can do it.

Ryse: Son of Rome
It’s a shame the story is so insipid, because the acting and motion capture is anything but.

Roman military life was extremely rigid and disciplined, so I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with this if Ryse were in any way realistic or historically accurate. About half way through the game, Marius gets a direct line to the Roman Goddess, “Summer,” who doesn’t exist, and in the climax, the rebel Celt, Boudicca lays siege to the city of Rome with Carthaginian war elephants.

Ryse, if Hannibal were here today, I’m not sure if he’d would be angry at you, or just really confused about Dumbo.

But Ryse doesn’t think you’ll know, or much less care about any of that. Because Ryse isn’t meant for you and me, it’s meant for the “general audience,” the kind of people who probably think “Booty-Ka” is a new rap song, and see

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nothing wrong with the spelling of “Ryse: Son of Rome”

This is the gaming equivalent of a Michael Bay movie, lots of flashy special effects, but no soul. If you just want to beat the hell out of some anachronistic barbarians for a few hours, more power to you. But if you want something with substance, don’t look to “Ryse: Son of Rome.”

It’s kind of hard to nail down exactly what Bioshock Infinite is about. Its predecessors, Bioshock and the somewhat uncreatively named Bioshock 2 were thematically concerned with choice and parenthood. Infinite, appropriately, touches on both, but isn’t limited to either. Set during 1912, Bioshock Infinite takes place in the floating…

Review Overview

Narrative
Design
Gameplay
Presentation

Editor's Choice

Bioshock Infinite is still about choice. It’s about the different paths your life can take, and if you’d made once choice over the other, how things might have turned out. It’s about the untold possibilities of the world, and how astonishment at the complexities of human existence are infinite.

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100

It’s kind of hard to nail down exactly what Bioshock Infinite is about. Its predecessors, Bioshock and the somewhat uncreatively named Bioshock 2 were thematically concerned with choice and parenthood. Infinite, appropriately, touches on both, but isn’t limited to either.

Set during 1912, Bioshock Infinite takes place in the floating city of Columbia. High above the clouds, the denizens of the city enjoy a paradoxical paradise. Those lucky enough to be born white enjoy lives of plenty in Columbia, while blacks, hispanics, asians, the Irish, and native Americans are viewed as lower-class citizens on a good day, and subhuman on a bad one.

Protagonist Booker DeWitt arrives in the magical city of despicable racists looking for a young girl named Elizabeth. A former Pinkerton agent, and deep in debt, Booker has been charged with bringing Elizabeth back to New York City unharmed.

Most games stories are fairly rote, aside from a few interesting thematic variances. Bioshock Infinite, while not necessarily as groundbreaking as its forefather, it is disturbingly critical of modern extremist American political conventions.

infinite_5Neither conservatism or liberalism escape from Infinite unscathed. While the racially purist Founders are violently oppressive and racist in ways that would disturb even the most staunch contemporary republican, the Vox Populi, made up of minorities and malcontents are so utterly convinced of Columbia’s inherent evil that they’re willing to literally watch it crash and burn.

Still, both parties are portrayed as an even more monstrous “other” by the opposite party. They turn them into disturbing straw men with no resemblance to reality; a practice that will be familiar to anyone acquainted with American politics.

All of that said, it’s a shame that this condemnation of extremism doesn’t directly translate into gameplay. Bioshock Infinite is a shooter, and a violent one at that. When you’re not blowing your enemies away in a shower of blood and viscera, you can use one or more of the game’s magical “vigors.” Presented as magical snake oil that actually works, vigors allow you to char flesh from bone, send a flock of crows to rend and tear enemies to pieces, electrocute them to the point that their heads pop like cherries, or command them to machine-gun themselves from crotch to chest.

Then there’s the Skyhook, a chainsaw glove that allows you to propel yourself around Columbia’s gondola lines at top speed. You can either fire your weapons while using your skyhook, or jump down onto your enemies while they scream in terror. During regular combat you can use the Skyhook to perform brutal finishing moves such as shoving the glove in face of your enemy and sawing off his face.

infinite_1Now, there’s nothing wrong with violence in interactive media, especially as an identifiable verb for the player, but context is important. In Bulletstorm the player could kill with impunity because the tone of the game was inherently ridiculous. Bioshock Infinite spends the first 45 minutes forcing you to identify its denizens as real people with real lives. When you have to start killing them in increasingly grisly ways, it feels wrong.

In that regard, your constant companion Elizabeth is kind of the player’s conscience. In addition to tossing you ammo, health and salts to recharge your vigors, Elizabeth will react to the player’s actions. Snap a man’s neck with your Skyhook, she’ll be horrified, refuse to kill an old friend to prevent him from being captured, only to find out later that he’s been lobotomized, and she’ll learn that mercy isn’t a simple concept.

To a certain extent, Infinite is about Elizabeth, her fears, her hopes, and what she represents the people in her life. Sometimes it feel like she’s the protagonist, that she’s the one escorting you.

But in other ways Bioshock Infinite is still about choice. It’s about the different paths your life can take, and if you’d made once choice over the other, how things might have turned out. It’s about the untold possibilities of the world, and how astonishment at the complexities of human existence are infinite.

Oh, I see what they did there.

There’s a bit in Tomb Raider where protagonist Lara Croft, recently shipwrecked on an uncharted island, has been captured and is being groped by another male survivor who obviously hasn’t seen a lady in quite some time. During the struggle with the man, Lara manages to take his pistol, and…

Review Overview

Narrative
Design
Gameplay
Presentation

Excellent

Most of the complaints levied against Tomb Raider are little more than nitpicks. Lara’s character arc could have been a little more fleshed out, and by all rights the story is bog standard to the point you’ll know the twist hours before any of the other characters, but it’s never bad enough that you’re annoyed with anyone’s ineptitude.

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90

There’s a bit in Tomb Raider where protagonist Lara Croft, recently shipwrecked on an uncharted island, has been captured and is being groped by another male survivor who obviously hasn’t seen a lady in quite some time.

During the struggle with the man, Lara manages to take his pistol, and blows a part of his head off. This is usually the bit where the main character stoically frowns, reloads, and runs off to commit a few more murders. But Tomb Raider, to its credit, is more realistic.

Lara has herself a bit of a breakdown, dropping the gun, sobbing, and tearfully apologizes to the gurgling man who by all appearances was about to rape her. Of course, after taking a few moments to compose herself, she picks the pistol back up and goes and commits a few more murders.

About four to five hundred more. Give or take.

This is where Tomb Raider by developer Crystal Dynamics has gotten a bit of stick. After her initial discomfort with her first kill, Lara turns into a combination of Rambo and the Terminator. Seriously, most small armies don’t have as high a body count as Lara Croft.

However, her transition from average girl to mass murderer isn’t as stark as some have made it out to be. You start off dealing with two or three enemies at a time, most of which attacked Lara first. She even tries to reason with a few of them before blowing them away. But after the fifth group of psychopaths tries to shoot and/or blow her up, Lara can be forgiven for abandoning diplomacy.

However, Lara is a bit more skilled than one might expect to to be. When you find a bow and arrows, you’re immediately as skilled at firing them as you’re ever going to be. Lara makes an off-handed remark about how she should “remember her training,” but that comes off as a bit disingenuous when she starts firing arrows like Hawkeye, and using finishing moves like sawing a man in half, crotch to chest with a machine gun.

tomb-raider-2013-screenshots-oxcgn-1

Maybe the British girl scouts are just really hardcore.

Mostly Tomb Raider plays like an open-world Uncharted crossed with some elements of Metroid and Resident Evil 4. The titular tombs are optional side missions which can be raided (i.e. puzzles that can be solved) for more experience and scrap items to improve your weapons. None of them are particularly difficult, but some require obnoxiously precise timing.

Tomb Raider is a fairly good looking game overall, albeit somewhat stifled by current generation console hardware. It fairs quite a bit better on PC, especially in regards to character models. You can enable “TressFX” which gives Lara a mane of flowing, somewhat realistic hair. Unfortunately, it can sometimes bug out, leaving Lara with a bald head, and later looks a little too perfect when you consider she’s been rolling around in the muck for the last couple of days.

Most of the complaints levied against Tomb Raider are little more than nitpicks. Lara’s character arc could have been a little more fleshed out, and by all rights the story is bog standard to the point you’ll know the twist hours before any of the other characters, but it’s never bad enough that you’re annoyed with anyone’s ineptitude.

Tomb Raider is a great game. Probably one of the best of the generation.

Crysis 3, created by Crytek, developer of its sister series Far Cry, and the graphics engine, CryEngine3 tells the story of Prophet, a soldier wearing the futuristic Crynet nano-suit, who spends most of the game crying about all he’s had to sacrifice in his war against aliens.

Boo hoo.

Narrative

three-stars_small

crysis_3To be honest that’s everything you need to know in order to care about the story of Crysis 3.

Sure, there are giant squid coming to wipe out humanity, an utterly hackneyed subplot about corporate debt slavery (we are the 99%, rah rah and all that), and a few forgettable side characters, but you can mostly forget about all of it while you’re being completely flabbergasted by the game’s graphics.

Design

four-stars_small

The game is separated into a number of massive combat arenas connected by linear corridors. Said arenas can be anything from a semi-demolished building, to a dam   or a great plain of tall grass where aliens hunt the unsuspecting.

crysis_5Unfortunately this is where we have to start making comparisons to the game’s predecessor, Crysis 2, which took place in New York as well, albeit one where Time’s Square wasn’t a deer habitat. It had a very present sense of location; even if you only had a passing knowledge of how lower Manhattan was laid out, you had a feeling of where you were in the world.

Firefights took place in the Financial District, or in the shadow of the remains of the Statue of Liberty, in the bowels of Central Station, and the game’s final level was an assault on a flying piece of Central Park.

Sure, in Crysis 3 you’re told you’re in New York, and every once in a while you’ll see something that vaguely resembles a ruined piece of the modern world, but otherwise the game might as well be taking place in “Ruined City 458-b.”

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Crysis 3, created by Crytek, developer of its sister series Far Cry, and the graphics engine, CryEngine3 tells the story of Prophet, a soldier wearing the futuristic Crynet nano-suit, who spends most of the game crying about all he’s had to sacrifice in his war against aliens. Boo hoo. Narrative…

Review Overview

Narrative
Design
Gameplay
Presentation

Average

The best way to describe Crysis 3 is gorgeous, but futilely attempting to catch lightning in a bottle.

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65

It’s not often when a game truly wows me. But when I originally tried the demo for Fire Emblem: Awakening, I knew I had to pre-order the game. I had been a fan of the Fire Emblem series since 2004, back when it originally debuted in North Plucking can pictured…

Review Overview

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Design
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Excellent

Overall, it’s a brilliant addition to the Fire Emblem series, and easily one of the best games on the 3DS.

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100

It’s not often when a game truly wows me. But when I originally tried the demo for Fire Emblem: Awakening, I knew I had to pre-order the game.

I had been a fan of the Fire Emblem series since 2004, back when it originally debuted in North

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America. The series, known for its difficulty and need to plan things out carefully, always encouraged players to test out new teams, try other units, or use different tactics to win the game.

Of course, players new to the game would probably get lost quickly. The rules of the game can take a little getting used to, and players will almost certainly miss out on recruiting new units, making sure to use certain ones, or losing units as they progress through the game.

But thankfully, there have a few major improvements. Awakening is probably the best Fire Emblem to start with if you’re new to the series. Not only does it introduce a new mechanic – “pairing-up” – it also gets rid of a couple of things that everyone new to the series would fall for.

Fire-Emblem-Awakening-Screenshot-2It used to be that Fire Emblem games had “trap units,” characters that just had terrible stat growths. The adverse was also true. Some units were just too good not to use. Awakening removes that concept, though. Every unit is worth using, but some will require more training than others.

Recruitment is also improved. Some units in previous Fire Emblem titles had obscure recruitment requirements. In this game, it’s simplified. You only have to talk to them with Chrom, the main character of this game.

The other two significant changes are re-classing – the ability to change the character to a different class – and infinite level-ups. It used to be that once units leveled up to 20, they were unable to

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grow any more. But through re-classing, units can constantly reset themselves to level one, and keep increasing their stats until they hit the stat cap.

Skills are back too. Every unit can equip five skills, but they can learn more than that. By re-classing, players can have their characters learn some powerful skill sets. It makes the game much more interesting, allowing players to have that kind of customization they couldn’t have before.

Fire Emblem: Awakening also allows players to make their own avatar, who serves as the second main character. Your personal character can re-class into anything, and you determine his/her stat growths.

Fire-Emblem-awakening-reivew-3The final gameplay element to talk about is marriage. Characters can wed in this game, and some couples will have children, which can also be used. Naturally, your character can marry anyone they want to.

The added content, though nice, doesn’t make up for some things. In previous titles, there were multiple kinds of maps, and different objectives. Awakening has only two objectives: rout the enemy and defeat the commander. The maps don’t have much variation, either.

Still, this criticism isn’t enough to bring the game down. Overall, it’s a brilliant addition to the Fire Emblem series, and easily one of the best games on the 3DS.

It’s Mario…again!

Granted, this time it’s different. This

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time, Mario is in 3-D!

But Paper Mario: Sticker Star feels like more than a re-hashed platformer. Those familiar with the series know it to be an RPG, something that this generation sorely lacks.

But as with all things Mario lately, the game is a disappointment. Nintendo has taken one step forward and two steps back. Although to be fair, it wasn’t Intelligent Systems fault this time. The original creator of Mario, Shigeru Miyamoto, who, for some apparent reason, felt that Paper Mario didn’t need a story, held the game – which was originally meant to be similar in depth to Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door – back from achieving this.

Why do people play RPGs? Do I even need to answer this question?

As if that weren’t enough, this game doesn’t use a partner system. It’s just Mario.

But to its credit, Sticker Star still manages to do some things right. The combat, as opposed to being a traditional turn-based system, where the player selects commands for the characters to do, instead selects from an album of stickers that are picked up after winning battles or while out in the field.

It’s quirky and an interesting approach to RPGs. Instead of a pre-set list of commands, Mario will only be able to use whatever stickers are in your sticker album. While this technically means you can run out of commands, it should never happen. The game throws stickers at you, so disregard them at your own peril.

Instead of being able to roam an open world like previous Paper Mario games, the player, once leaving Toad Town, appears on an overworld. Each “world” has levels. In other words, Paper Mario meets traditional Mario. This isn’t a bad thing, but it may not be what Paper Mario fans expected.

Players advance in these “worlds” by finding stickers to use in the environment. For example, the player may need to find a fan sticker to blow away an obstacle that is blocking advancement. Use the wrong sticker, though, and you’ll lose it.

Paper Mario: Sticker Star isn’t a bad game. Unfortunately, because it’s part of the series, people have certain expectations. As a Paper Mario game, it’s not at all what fans would have wanted.

There are no humorous Bowser quotes – he doesn’t even have lines – the only friendly NPCs are toads, and there’s nothing interesting to read. It’s Paper Mario without a soul.

It’s Mario. Really, what else can I say about it? It’s the same old platformer that it has been been for the last six years, ever since the New Super Mario Bros. series started. Well, okay, maybe not the exact same thing. There have been some minute changes, but it…

Review Overview

Story
Design
Gameplay
Presentation

Average

It’s a fun Mario game to play, and it’s definitely an improvement compared to previous entries in the New Super Mario Bros. series. Regrettably, it’s the not the first game I’d choose to play in my Wii U collection.

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55

It’s Mario.

Really, what else can I say about it? It’s the same old platformer that it has been been for the last six years, ever since the New Super Mario Bros. series started.

Well, okay, maybe not the exact same thing. There have been some minute changes, but it doesn’t do much to add anything to the overall experience.

The latest New Super Mario Bros. is one of the two major exclusives that Nintendo decided to launch with, and it’s disappointing to say the least.

The game does add a few new things, such as rideable adult yoshis, baby yoshis that offer different power-ups, and an acorn power-up, which takes the place of the raccoon suit.

The adult yoshis serve the same role they did when they first debuted in Super Mario World, eating enemies, fruit, fireballs, and offering a longer jump. The pink baby yoshi, like a balloon, allows you to fly over the level. The yellow one serves as a lantern while going through dark levels. And the baby blue one allows you to shoot bubbles at enemies, turning them into coins, lives, and power-ups.

new-super-mario-bros-u-star-coins-return-screenshotThe level layout is similar to what you’d expect from any other New Super Mario Bros. game, and the difficulty is still disappointing for any veteran Mario player. There are no secret exits to find, the bosses are simplistic, and 1-ups are in abundance.

That being said, I still like the game, but I just don’t love it. It’s a fun Mario game to play, and it’s definitely an improvement compared to previous entries in the New Super Mario Bros. series. Regrettably, it’s the not the

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first game I’d choose to play in my Wii U collection.

The Wii U is simultaneously exciting and puzzling.

The new Nintendo console’s primary innovation is its controller, which has a touch screen in its middle. Though it looks unwieldy, it actually sits well in the hands, and doesn’t strain after an hour or so of use.

Button placement is somewhat odd, however, as the face buttons (A, B, X, and Y) buck convention by being placed below the right analog stick, instead of above. The shoulder buttons feel comfortable, but are digital, which presents a problem for driving games.

The touch screen is passable, but unlike most modern smart phones, doesn’t include multi-touch or gestures.

The console’s user interface is problematic, and load times are troublingly long. Video and audio cannot be split from different signals, so those who want to hook their console up to their computer monitor will be disappointed.

darksiders2BBFurthermore, that Nintendo chose to release Wii U right now is nothing short of bizarre.

Before its release, Nintendo marketed the Wii U as having comparable hardware specifications to the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3. Ostensibly, this was done curry favor with third-party game developers, but there’s a problem that even a layman observer can point out.

It’s the worst kept secret in the gaming industry: This console generation is over, and the Xbox 720 and the PS4 (or whatever Microsoft and Sony decide to call them) will be released next year. Third party developers, already feeling the constraints of current generation hardware, will develop their games for these new consoles, and the Wii U – in less than a year’s time – will be considered obsolete.

mario_uMore than anything, the Wii U has been atrociously marketed to the uninformed public. Is it a new console? An add-on peripheral like the balance board? A new controller? What is it? It was the job of the Nintendo marketing team to tell buyer hopefuls exactly what they’re getting for their $300, and why they needed it, and they failed spectacularly.

The Wii U has to convince consumers that despite its hardware deficiencies, it’s still a worthy alternative to Microsoft and Sony’s offerings. It needs to alleviate UI problems and load times as quickly as possible.

As a party or family console, the Wii U is as worthy as any Nintendo has ever been. However, as a competitive hardcore gaming peripheral, it has a long, hard road ahead.

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