A Brief Retrospective on Ocarina Of Time

Posted in Opinion Pieces on June 17, 2011 by GameTacular

With the release (re-release?) of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on the 3DS, I began thinking about why this game is as beloved as it is. And it all boils down to it being really, really fun.

This is some really bland box art...

Ocarina of Time is the perfect example of what video games can do as an art form. That is a pretty bold statement, especially since I’m using a 13 year old game as the prime example of an argument that has only become popular in recent years. By just looking at videos and clips of Ocarina, it doesn’t seem that special. It has puzzles, it has a simple story, it has one-dimensional characters, it has relatively good visuals, it has great music, it has a lengthy adventure, it has a large open world, and it has a unique style, just to name a few things. It makes for a decent game on the outside, but it would be missing the point. But like Citizen Kane or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Hamlet, experiencing only portions and samples of Ocarina of Time cannot, in any real way, do it justice. That is the problem with so many of the critics against calling games art; the only experience small samples out of context, and base judgements on that. To any who have ever played Ocarina of Time, especially those who played it around the time of release, it is a game that stands above all its peers because of doing what video games do best. Hell, it does what all forms of entertainment do best. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is the epitome of entertaining. It isn’t pretentious, it isn’t complex, it isn’t thought provoking, and it isn’t incredibly emotional. It is simple, accessible, timeless fun.

Games want to become more and more like films, with jaw dropping visuals and compelling stories. It`s a noble goal, as many great games have been released over the years that are as good as they are because they were inspired by the film industry. The problem with that is fewer and fewer games are being made for the sake of entertainment. This surge of complex and cinematic games was caused by the desire for games to be recognised for their artistic and narrative qualities just as much as films or books. However, the best thing games can do is be fun, but so many people would like to think that they can achieve more than just fun. They can do that, but they can`t do it as well as they do fun.

It is odd that Ocarina of Time was one of the first games to inspire this focus shift to more a cinematic experience; the very best of the old inspiring the new. True, Ocarina was one of the first games to have cinematic qualities. However, unlike the games of today, the cinematic qualities of Ocarina of Time were there to enhance the gameplay instead of being there just for the sake of being there. Everything in Ocarina made it more engrossing and more entertaining, and it had no other ulterior goal. Fun for the sake of fun.

Back in the day, this is as big as it got.

I’m not trying to bash modern games or make it seem like games are getting worse, because they’re not. Many of my favourite games of all time have come from the past two generations of games. But I would like to remind people that, even though games can do so much, they will always be the ideal choice in terms of artistic entertainment. They can tell great stories, they can transport you to marvellous worlds, and they can make you think and feel. But they can make you have so much fun, fun that no movie or book can hope to emulate. That is what Ocarina of Time represents to so many gamers: It is the most entertaining experience they’ve ever had with any form of media. I think developers should look back at Ocarina just one more time, and realize that making others just have fun is one of the noblest goals a person can have.

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Halo 4 has been announced

Posted in Opinion Pieces on June 6, 2011 by GameTacular

We all knew it was coming, but I’m sure very few people expected a full sequel to be announced so early. Well, rejoice Halo and FPS fans; Master Chief has a new fight to finish.

Microsoft officially revealed Halo 4, the start of a new Halo trilogy, with an explosive teaser trailer at their E3 conference earlier today. Although Microsoft’s first party support still appears relatively weak for the rest of the year, especially when compared to Sony’s line up, this news will keep Xbox fans excited for quite some time.

It will be interesting to see how the new developers handle this much-beloved franchise. Bungie left some giant shoes to fill for 343 Industries, and fans are really hoping that they are up to the challenge. Hopefully, they decide to implement  many new features and concepts into this new trilogy, especially since Reach failed to add anything significantly new to the experience (even if it was a very fine experience).

From the trailer, it seems that the story is going to continue very close to where Halo 3 left off, but it is still unclear just how long the Chief has been out. It appears however that there is a new enemy to be fought, as the end of the trailer reveals a piece of technology that is very different from what has been seen in previous titles. It would make sense for them to have a new enemy, since there is a new developer at the helm and it is the start of a new trilogy.

Of course, most of this is just speculation. Hopefully the game turns out great. I’m still a bit skeptical as to whether or not 343 Industries can live up to Bungie’s legacy, but at the very least, I’m excited to see where they go from here.

L.A. Noire Review

Posted in Reviews on May 31, 2011 by GameTacular

Hours Played: Roughly 40 hours

 No Choice of Difficulty

 Console Played On: Xbox 360

Very few things can be considered ground-breaking, truly innovative, and original. The gaming industry, just like any other, thrives on products that take old ideas and synthesize them to make something new. If you take a look at L.A. Noire by its individual components, it doesn’t seem to deserve all the hype that it’s been receiving. The combat is very simplistic, and it can have very clunky controls now and then. The world is huge and expansive, but there just isn’t much to do in it other than the main objectives. The story is serious and truly meant for a mature audience, but it isn’t the first game to have such a tale. The detective elements are compelling and very well presented, but it boils down to being just a combination of Phoenix Wright and old-school adventure games. However, these aren’t standalone elements. They are each an integral piece of a cohesive whole. So even though each individual component of L.A. Noire isn’t perfect, the game is absolutely spectacular when taken as a whole. If any game this year moves the gaming industry forward, it will be L.A. Noire.

 

Master sleuth, master detective.

 

L.A. Noire is a film noir styled game that puts you in the shoes of Cole Phelps, an L.A. police officer seeking to climb the ranks of the LAPD after returning home to America from fighting the Japanese in World War II. By solving cases, street crimes, and showing the department how a real detective does their job, Phelps quickly becomes one of the most renowned and valued detectives in L.A. But as Phelps progresses, it becomes clear that there is a larger and more devious plot surrounding many of his cases. As Phelps, it is your job to clean up the streets of a post WWII Los Angeles, no matter how bad it might get for your family, your friends, your coworkers, or even yourself during your investigations.
Like Fallout and Bioshock before it, L.A. Noire is a game that excels at creating an immersive atmosphere that transports you to the streets of L.A. in the late 1940’s. The city has been accurately recreated in the game, with roughly 90% of the city being an accurate recreation of the city. Everything from the cars and clothing styles to the smallest cigarette packet seems to have been taken right out of the 40’s. The speech and colloquialisms are recreated, the racial fears and racisms are accurately and maturely represented, and it truly feels like this is as close as anyone will get to experience this time period again. Team Bondi have really gone out of their way to give this game the best presentation and production values possible, and it definitely pays off. The visuals of the game are surprisingly crisp and detailed for a game of this size. The attention to detail, from the recreated city buildings to the contents of the garbage can in a random house, is breathtaking. The game always makes it seem like each part of the world is just as important as any other, no matter how small. The audio is also a real treat to behold. The voice acting (or just acting, but more on that later) is phenomenal in every single person. The team has really gone out of their way to get some really terrific performances from the actors, making each character feel like a living, breathing person. This atmosphere is the most incredible part of L.A. Noire, and it sucks you into the world like no other game before it.

The cases in L.A. Noire are the strongest and most powerful moments of the game, and thankfully, they take up the majority of the games content. Each case is usually an individual story that can be experienced on its own, but they occasionally have an overarching plot during a few cases, especially towards the games finale. The cases have Phelps coming to a crime scene, looking for clues, than interviewing suspicious individuals, often making you travel all over the city. Searching for clues behaves like an old-school adventure game, where you look around for objects of importance, and you think about ways that these objects or clues can be used to help you, at least in L.A. Noire’s case (sorry for the bad pun… I couldn’t resist). It adds to the already incredible atmosphere of being a detective, and it is also compelling to get all the clues in order to get a better understanding of the interesting cases and crimes. As finely crafted as the clue hunting aspects are, the interrogations are perhaps the most enjoyable aspects in the game. When interrogating, Cole asks questions, and you have to decide if the suspect is telling the truth, if he is being economical with the truth, or if he is outright lying. What makes this such a fun aspect of the game is that the faces you are trying to analyse are real faces; through new technology, an actor’s entire likeness has been converted into the game. You actually have to read a person’s face in order to find the right answer and, although challenging, the knowledge that you are analysing a person’s face makes it so much more satisfying when you successfully interrogate someone. After acquiring all the clues and interviewing the suspects, the game either automatically arrests the most suspicious individual or it gives you a choice between two suspects. Either way, the cases are closed in a satisfying manner, and the story continues on matter what the outcome is.

That is kind of the only problem with the detective aspects of this game. Team Bondi have a story they want to tell, yet their gameplay aspects are so intertwined with the story that a players decisions can greatly alter the outcome of any case. So no matter how you do on a case, bad or good, Phelps will still be praised for being a great cop. It sometimes offers explanations as to why this is happening, but they are usually very cheap and simplistic answers that do not help. It can feel really odd when you are failing each case miserably, and your captain is praising you in between each one. It’s a small gripe, but it weakens the effect that each case has on you.

I don't always fail, but when I do, nobody cares.

With that said, the cases still have the power to absolutely affect the player both mentally and emotionally. The more story based cases offer an emotional tale about the troubles of reintegrating one’s self in society after fighting a war, but the cases can really keep you up at night. When you screw up a case and put the wrong person behind bars, it feels like you`ve failed the police force, and you feel just as ashamed as Cole does. Even when you have all the evidence that points to a certain person, the gut feeling that someone else did it can gnaw at your mind, even after the case is completed. It’s as similar feeling to pondering whether you made the right choices in a game like Mass Effect, and it really shows video games progressing as an artisitic medium.

L.A. Noire is told in an episodic structure, with each case being its own individual entity within a grander story. This structure does wonders for the gameplay, since it heavily promotes sittings of one or two hours spent solving on case, allowing for more burst-like playing. If you want a game that you can play hours on end for, don’t fret, because L.A. Noire’s plot and atmosphere can easily suck you in if you so desire. It’s the kind of game where you can play at your own pace, and never feel punished or cheated by it. Each case offers a slight progression in Cole’s story for redemption and acceptance, whether through events in the story or through flashbacks of his time in the war. At first, the game appears to simply be individual story after individual story. But as the game progresses, each chapter offers more and more details in terms of the main plot, and it almost feels like a Shakespearean story where the most vital events happen in a brief few moments at the story’s conclusion. It is an interesting method of telling the story and it helps strengthen the game’s uneven ending, but it often feels like the player isn’t given enough of a reason to care about Cole early on. Events happen to him over the course of the game, many of them that should make the player feel for him, but there is no reason to. It is not until much later into the game that Cole is given a real personality, and all the things we were supposed to feel just come in a sudden rush near the end. The pacing and structure isn’t perfect, but it is a unique way of telling the story that isn’t done enough in gaming, which makes the few mistakes slightly more forgivable. Overall, it has more benefits that negatives, and it makes this one of the more accessible big budget titles in terms of time spent playing it.

Hmm... my detective intuition is telling me that this man is dead.

Sadly, I have to go over the many problems that are present throughout L.A. Noire. Most noticeably and importantly, the combat is sub-par. The combat is similar to that of previous Rockstar titles such as Red Dead Redemption or Grand Theft Auto 4, but with a few tweaks that, sadly, make it much less enjoyable. Getting into and out of cover is very clunky, and Cole often time simply steps away out of cover into the open instead of moving like a sane person. Aiming and shooting is exactly like RDR, with a more forgiving auto-aim mechanic. The major problem with the combat is that it feels way to simplified and easy. Enemies go down in two or three shots, Cole has a ton of health, ammo is unlimited, there is always cover to hide behind, and the game even lets you skip combat events if you die too much. The combat seems to be there simply to appeal to the shooter crowd, but it is too poorly implemented and too rarely used to actually make any of them want to play the game.
Outside the cases and optional street crimes, the world is rather empty. There just isn’t anything to do. There are many collectibles to find, but they don’t give you anything significant to warrant you scouring Los Angeles for them. Even if the world is full of live and breathtaking to behold, it would have been nice to have more side-quests and more incentive to explore the city and reasons to stay in it.
Another potential problem with this game is that it doesn’t really have a target audience. A detective game like this has never really been made before, and it is more of a niche title than the blockbuster that it sells itself as. Many people will not enjoy this game, simply because it is not their type of game. It is slow-paced, mature, intelligent, and very story centric. Many people will not be able to get past the fact that you aren’t doing something exciting every minute.

L.A. Noire succeeds where others fail. Not because its atmosphere is engrossing, not because the detective work is intricate and satisfying, not because the game is authentic and inspired, and not because it is a serious and mature crime-drama. It is because it masterfully blends each of these elements into a near perfect whole, while minimalizing its faults as much as possible. It’s a game that knows its strengths and weaknesses, and morphs itself around them to better its self. It is a game that everyone should at least try because of how different and unique it is; even if you think you might not enjoy it. It is a precursor of a future where the video game industry can successfully produce mature and sophisticated stories and products. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is one hell of a cup for those who enjoy it.

Pros

– Amazing character animations
– Engrossing atmosphere
– Great sophisticated and mature story
– Unique
– Detective gameplay is great

Cons

– Poor combat mechanics
– World is empty
– Not for everyone
– Too forgiving with case work

Overall: 9/10

A Modern Classic: Uncharted 2 Review

Posted in Reviews on May 14, 2011 by GameTacular

Uncharted 2 might have been released 2 years ago, but it’s such a genre defining game that I thought it would be nice to revisit why this game was so great, especially as it’s follow up garners more and more attention.

 Unarguably one of Playsation 3’s flagship series, the Uncharted games have cemented themselves as one of this generation’s greatest series. Drake’s Fortune, the first entry in the series, was released early in the PS3’s life, and it was one of the first killer apps for the system. It offered stellar combat, fun platforming, a beautiful landscape, a cinematic story, and interesting, lovable characters. However, the game was held back by several problems, such as a short campaign with no multiplayer, a repetitive setting, clunky melee combat, poorly designed vehicle sections, and occasionally clunky cover mechanics. There were a few things to be improved for the sequel and from the screenshots and trailers, hopes were high. So, did the developers, Naughty Dog, manage to deliver a worthy successor or a cheap cash-in on the original?

            Neither, actually. Uncharted 2 has been so much improved and refined that the original is barely worthy of having such a sequel.

Does it really deserve so much praise... ...Yes, yes it does.

            Uncharted 2 once again puts you in the shoes of wise cracking Nathan Drake, a treasure hunter and adventurer, who gets caught up in a race against foes to find the fabled land of Shambhala, for quite a variety of reasons. He is, of course, accompanied by his mentor Victor “Sully” Sullivan, and bumps into his hold flame, Elena Fisher. He also encounters several new characters, such as Chloe Fraser, that are sure to become just as beloved as the other characters. The game takes place in a variety of locals, from a Turkish museum, to a jungle island off the coast of Borneo, to the snowy mountains of Nepal.

            The story follows a character driven plot, which is one of the game’s greatest strengths. Since the story on its own is slightly disappointing, it is a benefit to the game that it focuses so much on its well written and often humorous characters. Each one has a unique personality that is fully showcased throughout the game, and it really gives the player a chance to get to know and like the characters. The only problem with character development was in the form of Karl Schaffer. Without spoiling anything, he is simply brought out to be an important and integral part to the story, yet he is only given a few minutes of screen time, and it feels awkward when the other characters speak of him. Other than that, Uncharted 2 brings some of the most enjoyable cut scenes in gaming through the characters interactions, and they could almost make a quality film in themselves. However, the cut scenes don’t have something that lesser games have.

            The scripted action events in Uncharted 2 are perhaps the most exhilarating, intense, and breathtaking moments in any game in recent memory, due to one key feature; they are fully playable. So, be it climbing through a train car that’s about to fall off a cliff, sliding down a ramp on a giant brick platform while fighting enemies, or killing enemies inside a crumbling building, every event allows the player to control Drake. This is one of Uncharted 2’s best qualities, along with its characters, since it truly adds another level of immersion and intensity that few games can ever hope to match.

            The graphics and audio are both high point for not only the game, put the console as well. These are hands down some of the best looking environments in the systems history, both technically and artistically. Each area feels like a real place, be it the streets of a war-torn Nepal or the lush jungles of Borneo. The graphics also reflect the game’s humorous overtones, in that even though there is war and killing going on, the environments remain colourful, lively, and beautiful. On top of this, the game’s frame rate never drops in the slightest, and adds to the smooth and fluid experience that Uncharted brings. The only hiccup in the graphics department is that the player will occasionally notice some texture pop-ins, but it’s hardly large or frequent enough to hamper the experience. The audio is fantastic, making each area, each action, and each nuance come to life. The voice acting is also terrific, adding to the depth and believability of the story and characters. However, the music can be underwhelming at times. The game is filled to the brim with top notch action events, yet the music often can’t match the intensity or epic quality of these moments.

Nathan Drake: half Indiana Jones, half Captain Reynolds, complete badass.

            The gameplay is, oddly enough, the games weakest point, but not by much. Uncharted 2 is a third-person shooter-adventure game, and it excels at most of its aspects. The first thing the player is introduced to is the platforming, which is some of the smoothest and easy platforming one can find, and makes the game feel more fluid and coherent. The hand to hand combat is introduced next, and it has been vastly improved upon. Gone are the awkward and often misread combos. Instead, all the melee attacks are done by a single button, and a counter is a separate button (square and triangle by default). Everything flows very smoothly, and what seems dumbed down at first is later realized to be something that makes combat smoother and more enjoyable as a whole. The stealth attacks, only mildly used in the original, are now another great element of the sequel. Stealth is a great way to take out a few enemies before any encounter, and can often eliminate an entire force altogether. The combat itself is also really well done. Each weapon, of which there are many, has a unique feel and is useful in many circumstances. Shooting is the standard aim-and-shoot template, and like the rest of the game, is extremely smooth and easy to control, and just a joy to play. The AI are also intelligent, and they’ll dodge and roll to avoid attacks, punch Drake when they can, and successfully use cover. However, Drake himself tends to have trouble with cover. Often times Drake will not do what the player told him to, and instead of going to cover, he’ll hang of a nearby ledge. However, it’s hard to blame the game for this, since it’s hard to coordinate one’s movement when the player can look in every direction. Still, it does detract from the fun factor of the game. The puzzles are the worst aspect of this game, as they simply require the player to look at a picture, and match that picture in the game world. They are unimaginative, simplistic, and boring. So, although they are easy to solve and add to the fluidity of the game, they are too boring and simple to truly benefit the game.

            The length of the game is similar to that of the original, and it will take the average gamer roughly ten hours to complete it. However, this time there is a multiplayer component to keep the player coming back for more, and it is fantastic. Unlike so many other games today that have multiplayer components that feel vastly different than the single player, sometimes even developed by different companies, Uncharted 2’s multiplayer is derived straight from the single player experience, and all the elements that make the campaign great are in the multiplayer component. The game gives it’s own take on death matches, elimination matches, and capture the flag, all which offer a fun and uniquely Uncharted experience. The game also boasts a cooperative component where three players fight through slightly altered campaign missions, with hordes of enemies and puzzles. It’s an interesting experience, and although fun for a while, gets boring relatively quickly. The multiplayer also has a reward based levelling system that actually feels like it’s rewarding you for accomplishments instead of random events. All in all, the multiplayer is a great addition to an already great game.

You aren't a real man until you fight a tank with an assault rifle.

            Overall, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a phenomenal game. It just destroys everything competing with it. It boasts some very interesting and lovable characters, as well as an action packed story. The game takes breaths away with its beautiful art design and technical mastery. The combat is fast, fluid, and fun, and the multiplayer is a brilliant addition to the series. The playable action moments are some of the most memorable events in gaming, and really suck the player in. So although the game has a few hiccups here and there, it’s hard to deny that this game is truly one of the standout gaming experiences of this generation. A must buy for every PS3 owner.

Pros

–          Fun character driven plot, with top notch acting

–          Intense action events

–          Stellar combat

–          Good multiplayer addition

–          Beautiful visuals

Cons

–          Cover is still clunky

–          Some characters fall flat

–          The puzzles are pathetic

9/10

Gears of War 3: Beta Impressions

Posted in Opinion Pieces on May 1, 2011 by GameTacular

The Gears of War 3 Beta has been out for a few weeks now, and whether through a pre-order or Bulletstorm, many people are getting an early taste of one of this year’s most anticipated releases. Gears of War has been a flagship series for the 360, and this is definitely Microsoft’s big release for the year, so there are high hopes for Gears 3 to be just as good, if not better, than the original two. So how does it hold up? Does it fix the connection and balancing issues found in the second game? Does it do anything worse?

            If the game is tweaked a bit before launch, Gears of War fans will certainly be ecstatic about this threequel’s multiplayer component.

            At its core, the Beta is just like previous titles; there are two teams of five, COG and Locust, that compete against each other in typical shooter game-types. So far, there are three game types available in the beta: standard Team Deathmatch, King of The Hill, and Capture the leader. TDM and KoTH has remained the same, but Capture the Leader is a new variant of the popular Guardian game-type from previous instalments. In this mode, players must protect a chosen leader from the enemy team, but at the same time they have capture and hold the opposing team’s leader for thirty seconds to win. It’s a fun game mode, and many people will see it as an improvement over Guardian. The other game modes are also fun, but they don’t showcase anything new within the game. If the retail follows this framework where one third of the game types are improved or changed and two thirds remains the same, it should be the perfect balance of old and new for fans.

            The Beta has four maps; a destroyed store (Checkout), a field resembling a football field (Thrashball), a vibrant aged village (Old Town), and a dusty mining area (Trenches). All of the maps are well designed, making sure that neither team has the upper hand depending on where they spawn. Most importantly, all the maps are fun to play on, and they offer multiple ways of taking out enemies. Whether or not they stand the test of time has yet to be seen, but Old Town and Trenches are sure to become crowd-favourites.

            The classic weapons from the Gears universe return, and they have been much improved. Each weapon has gone through subtle tweaks or alterations, and some have been renamed (the shotgun is now called the gnasher). Each weapon gets used more evenly than in previous titles, and games are no longer completely shotgun dominated. It’s nice to see a developer learn from their mistakes, and the fact that the classic weapons are balanced greatly improves Gears of War’s multiplayer.

            One of the coolest and best additions is the new weapons. All the new weapons are great and unique in their own way, but each of them needs to either undergo some tweaking or need to be balanced. Even though its name suggests that they are similar, the new retro lancer is vastly different than the regular lancer. It features a bayonet instead of a chainsaw, and it is used to charge at and impale unsuspecting enemies. It shoots just like the lancer, but it is much more powerful at the cost of being incredibly hard to aim and control. It is a great addition to the Gears arsenal, but it seems a bit too powerful, and it can often down an enemy quicker than a shotgun in close range. The new shotgun, the sawed off, suffers from a similar fate. It has one round per clip, a really long reload time, and it has horrible range. However, up close, it will kill anyone in one shot. Like the retro lancer, it’s a great new addition, but it needs to be a bit less powerful for the sake of balance. The new power weapon, the digger, is perhaps the best new addition. It shoots an underground bore of sorts and comes up and kills where you designate it to. It works well, it isn’t overpowered, and it is a blast to use. The new incendiary grenade is the worst new addition. It behaves just like an ink grenade, except it seems to be slightly stronger. There doesn’t seem to be a real point to it. All in all, the new weapons are awesome, and as long as they are tweaked a bit, Gears 3 could very easily have the best arsenal in the series.

            A huge problem with Gears of War 2 was the networking issues. Each game would have a host, and everyone else would have to suffer through lag, resulting in a very unfair multiplayer system. With Gears 3, Epic has completely improved the networking, making it one of the most fair and lag free multiplayer components on the market. No longer will anyone call “host!” at an unfair kill, nor will anyone who is bad at the game do better than actually skilled players. It’s satisfying to see Gears finally have its multiplayer at its full potential.

            The Gears of War 3 Beta has me sold. It has improved the game in every way it needed to be, and it has added enough new additions to give fans a reason to dive right back in. The game is more fluid, the maps are just as great as they used to be, and the game-types are both new and improved.  As long as Epic balances the new weapons, Gears of War 3 could have one of the most satisfying and fun online components in recent memory. Let’s just hope that they can make a campaign that is just as enjoyable as the multiplayer.

Here are some videos for those of you who can’t play the Beta. Courtesy of SixAMGames.

Pokémon Black and White Review

Posted in Reviews on April 21, 2011 by GameTacular

Nintendo DS Exclusive

No Choice of Difficulty

Hours Played: 50 hours

            Pokémon Black and White, the fifth generation in the Pokémon series, features the most improvements and changes that the series has ever had in a new instalment. But that isn’t saying much, now is it? Pokémon Black White fails to evolve (I apologize) the series in any significant way, and although they are still good games, the classic franchise is beginning to show its age.

           Although it isn’t very important, I should note that I played Black version for this review. So any discrepancies you find can most likely be attributed to that fact.

Zekrom (right) looks cooler. Hands Down.

             Any-who, Pokémon. Black and White. Surprising the entire gaming public, Pokémon Black/White puts you in the shoes of a teenager as he or she sets off on a journey to catch every Pokémon and to see the world, but he or she slowly gets caught up in a struggle to save the world from a terrorist group. It’s so unique isn’t it?           

             Well it actually is the most unique and serious plot the franchise has ever seen. However, it doesn’t necessarily benefit the game in any way. The terrorist group in this game is Team Plasma and the evil thing that they are trying to do is… trying to free all the Pokémon from humans. The game puts you in the shoes of what is the villain of the story (At first). It brings up an interesting argument both for and against the way people treat animals, but it is never explored enough to warrant it as significant. It’s overly serious themes and tone actually harm the game, since the world and characters are so vibrant and joyful, yet the story is much more serious and morally ambiguous. It creates and odd contrast that doesn’t fit within the game’s world and it becomes more laughable than serious at some points. But nobody plays Pokémon for its story (At least I hope not). 

           Pokémon’s accessible yet deep turn based combat makes a triumphant return, with all of its pros and cons. For the one or two people who don’t know what Pokémon’s combat is all about, this is the rundown: the player will either encounter Pokémon in the wild or through other trainers. A battle is fought with one, two, or three Pokémon on each team, depending on the type of battle. The player and enemy both pick one of four moves from their Pokémon’s arsenal, and whoever has the fastest Pokémon attacks first. You must conquer eight Gyms in order to fight the Pokémon league, and be crowned the best Pokémon trainer in the region. You will be able to catch a massive variety of Pokémon of your choice throughout the game, and level them up as you battle. It’s fun, accessible, and addicting. The game is very much the same as it was in previous instalments, with a few improvements and tweaks. A new type of battle is introduced, where three Pokémon fight at the same time. It’s a nice twist on the formula, but it doesn’t happen often enough in the game for it to matter. TM’s no longer break when you use them, and HM’s are no longer mandatory to beat the game. Instead, they allow the player to take shortcuts or find secret items. It makes the game more straightforward and simple, and it comes out as a more enjoyable experience, but not by any significant amount. The only bad addition is the new set of Pokémon. They’re terrible. You know that a developer is out of ideas when they have enemies based on ice-cream cones, lamps, and garbage bags. The worst one is a Pokémon who is called Gurdurr, and his only defining feature is that he is holding a girder. They’re not all bad, but most of them are. All in all, the game is still enjoyable and addicting, but some long-time fans may start to lose interest, and others who thought previous instalments didn’t have enough changes might be very disappointed with these games.   

Behold him in all his glory and might!

            As always, Pokémon’s graphics and audio are unique to say the least. Game Freak has never tried to make visual technical games, and instead they went try to keep alive the graphical limitations of the first games. The game is still a mix of 2D and 3D visuals, and Pokémon are still under pixelated. Although it may seem to be odd to newcomers, the visual are actually very well done. They are unique and harken back to classic 16 bit games. However, the newer generation of gamers may not appreciate this visual style as much as older players. The 3D element has been improved, with many more areas using a 3D perspective and quick changes between 2D and 3D. The audio has the same issues that the visuals have. The audio is comprised of unique pixelated soundtracks that are incredibly well-orchestrated, well implemented, and well played, especially the tracks that play while fighting stronger enemies. The Pokémon still feature the same indistinct sound effects, and they still sound terrible. Again, the audio harkens back to classic games, but it may alienate newer players.

            Pokémon has always been franchise that boasted extravagantly long adventures, and the newest versions are no exception. The main story is a bit shorter than previous 40 hour instalments, with the games clocking in around 30 to 35 hours. But don’t despair, because the endgame content is much larger than previous games. There is a whole section of the map that opens up after the game is completed, with many new trainers to fight and places to explore. There’s also a challenging version of the elite four that can be fought after the game concludes. Depending on how much you feel inclined to complete, the game can easily stretch out to become 40 to 50 hours long. And after that there’s always one more thing to fall back on.

            The online component in Pokémon is the best that it has ever been. It’s much, much simpler to use, and boasts many more options and game variants. Trading with other trainers has also been streamlined greatly, making trading so much easier and hassle-free. If you don’t want your game to end, then the multiplayer will keep you going for a long time.

            Pokémon Black and White are the best games in the franchise. It has been fine tuned to become the perfect game for fans, but that has its costs. Newer gamers may not enjoy the game as much as older gamers who can appreciate the games nuances or aged presentation. It’s still an enjoyable game no matter who you are, but if Pokémon wants to be the powerful influence that it used to be, it’s going to have to take a few risks with their next games.

Pros

–          Classic tried-and-true gameplay

–          Perfect for fans

–          Greatly improved online component

–          Lengthy adventure

Cons

–          Fails to improve the franchise in any significant way

–          Ugly and uninspired Pokémon designs

–          Story feels out of place

Overall: 7/10

The RPG is back in Mass Effect 3

Posted in Opinion Pieces on April 8, 2011 by GameTacular

            Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 were both brilliant games. Each had its share of faults, with the original having slightly more, but overall they were some of the best RPG’s to be released this generation.

            But Mass Effect 2 went a bit overboard with its streamlined mechanics. Yes the combat was better, exploring was more enjoyable, and everything was easy to understand and easily accessible. However, in this process, they forgot to keep some of the elements that made the original great; weapon mods were gone, choosing weapons was oversimplified, classes, although more unique and still better than the original, were too basic. Simply put, Mass Effect 2 took out too many RPG elements for the sake of a more enjoyable game. It worked, but it went too far.

            So the news that Mass Effect 3 would see a return of RPG elements is perhaps the greatest piece of news Mass Effect fans have been waiting for. Mass Effect 3 appears to be bringing the best of both games and moulding it together to create a sort-of Super Mass Effect. Although no gameplay videos have been released and we still know very little, it should come as a sigh of relief to anyone who was worried that Bioware would not listen to player feedback for the second time around. Especially after how poorly fan-reaction has been to Dragon Age 2.