Shadow of Morder: Game Remix

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I ended up purchasing Shadow of Mordor earlier this week. I didn’t know a lot about it and had zero expectations. I’ve only been playing for a couple of hours and I’ve been enjoying it. But it’s hard to avoid how obviously similar this game is to more popular titles. There are three games it shamelessly borrows from: Assassins Creed, the recent Batman games and the new Tomb Raider game. It doesn’t even really try to hide the fact that these gameplay elements are pretty much unaltered except for some minor elements.

There’s nothing wrong with borrowing gameplay elements from other games, developers do it all the time. But it feels more blatant in Shadow of Mordor because the elements it borrows from other games are the combat and exploration, two things you’ll be doing a lot of. The climbing and air assassinations animations look very similar to those moves in Assassins Creed. Jumping off tall structures in Shadow of Mordor initiates an animation that looks similar to the animation in Assassins Creed. One former Ubisoft employee even accused the developer of stealing code.

The combat in Shadow of Mordor is identical to the combat found in the recent Batman games. The combat in Shadow of Mordor is not nearly as smooth though. Every time you hit an enemy you build a combo (like in Batman), the higher the combo the more damage you’ll do and the more special moves you can pull off (like in Batman). When an enemy is about to hit you and you need to dodge or counter, the game will tell you (like it does in Batman). Ultimately the combat system works well for Shadow of Mordor but it’s lacking in originality.

Lastly, when you discover artifacts and examine them for hidden clues to discover more lore, it’s identical to when you discover artifacts in the new Tomb Raider game. The similarities are uncanny. Again, they don’t hide the fact that these elements are copied.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow did something similar. The game “borrowed” elements from games like God of War and Shadow of Colossus. It wasn’t a very fun game even though it had a pretty interesting art direction. The game felt soulless. In Shadow of Mordor the game is still enjoyable and doesn’t feel like it’s lacking soul but the fact that it doesn’t really change much of the elements it borrows from takes away part of the enjoyment of playing the game. It becomes distracting. Maybe this is an extreme thought, but maybe the developer, Monolith Productions should thank the Ubisoft, Rocksteady Studios and Crystal Dynamics in the credits.

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For the Love of Monster Hunter

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I love Monster Hunter. Some people hate it. I don’t blame them, I used to dislike it too. The general concept behind Monster Hunter is straight forward and if there were ever a name of a game that described itself, it’s this one. Monster Hunter is a game where the main goal is to hunt large exotic monsters. Every quest is a boss fight.

In Monster Hunter you can hunt on your own or you can choose to play online with three other hunters. This is where the game shines. Being successful hinges on teamwork like most other squad based online games. Preparation before the hunt is key. You have to buy the right supplies or if you have the resources, craft them yourself. When you go on the hunt you have 60 minutes to complete it, which is usually more time than you need. With that extra time you can explore the world, scavenge for herbs and minerals that you need for crafting.

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The combat in Monster Hunter is realistic, in the sense that you won’t be successful in your hunts if you plan on button smashing. You can’t just attack, you need to be defensive, dodge and to move around so you avoid getting hit. The game features 12 different weapon types that range from your typical longsword to a bow. You also have less orthodox weapons like an axe that switches into a sword, or a lance that’s also a gun. If you choose to fight with a great sword, don’t expect to be able to attack quickly. Your attacks will be slow and you’ll have to be meticulous.

The game becomes a routine, which some might think is a bad thing, but I find it relaxing. Besides hunting you are put in charge of a small farm and a fishing fleet. You can craft new items, weapons or armor. To craft new weapons or armor you have to hunt down or capture monsters which can become repetitive, especially if you need five of a certain item. If you don’t feel like hunting you can explore the different parts of the world you’ve unlocked.

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The monsters you fight are vicious, unforgiving, varied and come in different sizes. Each monster has their own personality and characteristics, each is inspired by a real life animal. Some monsters put up great fights, while others are just annoying to deal with. Each monster acts and reacts differently. The first few times you fight a particular monster chances are you’ll get hit a lot. Eventually you start to learn how a monster acts, you start to see a pattern and you’ll start to instinctively dodge attacks.

Since its release in March of last year Monster Hunter on the Wii U and 3DS is one of the few games I still play consistently. I take breaks that can last up to a month but I always end up coming back to it. If you’re interested a demo is available to download, but expect it to be a little challenging since the demo does little to explain the game or combat mechanics. You’ll probably find the combat slow and frustrating. I don’t think the demo is particularly good as it doesn’t represent the game that well, but at least it’s available. And lastly, you can also find a lot of great videos of gamers fighting monsters on Youtube. Lastly, the online Monster Hunter community is one of the nicest, diverse and welcoming. Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate comes out early next year – And the game can’t come soon enough.

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Video Game Statistics: Sales, Demographics, Usage

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I’ve been reading a document I found online that breaks down various variables in regards to the gaming industry in the United States put together by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). The information presented within the document is based on information the ESA have collected for the United States. It gives us a pretty clear idea of just how dominate the gaming industry has become in regards to the movie and music industries. What it also shows is that mobile gaming is a booming business.

Some of the more interesting statistics I found:

  • 59% of Americans play video games
  • There’s an average of two gamers in each game-playing household
  • That the average US home owns at least one dedicated gaming console, PC or smartphone.
  • 68% of gamers play on consoles, while 53% play on smartphones.
  • The average age of a game is 31
  • 52% of gamers are male, while 48% are female
  • When it comes to who is buying video games, it’s a 50-50 split between male and female
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  • Casual and social gaming on mobile devices increased a whopping 55% between 2012 and 2013.
  • You can find more interesting statistics by downloading the ESA report.

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    Other Places: A Series Celebrating Beautiful Video Game Worlds


    I came across Other Places through Twitter. It’s a website that publishes videos of beautiful environments found in games. I think it’s about time someone does this, we need someone to keep track and archive these worlds. They have a list of games they’ve already covered and even though it’s not a huge list (they’re still adding to it), it’s a great one. So be sure to check it out.

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    What I’ve Been Playing: Valiant Hearts and Tomb Raider

    Valiant Hearts: The Great War
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    Valiant Hearts: The Great War is a game that was released late June by Ubisoft and it’s their third game that uses their in-house created game engine UbiArt Framework. The narrative revolves around a handful of characters that are connected in one way or another during the events of World War I. The gameplay reminds me of old-school point and click games. You start a level controlling one of the characters and you have to solve puzzles using items you find scattered in the environments. The art direction and music are incredibly well done, nothing seems out of place and the theme song is hauntingly beautiful. The atmosphere in the game is captivating. Every character has a diary that they write in and these entries gives you more insight into what they’re thinking. Every level also has collectibles, every collectible tells a story. Every level is also based on a real place and event that happened during World War I. Reading all this information is optional and Ubisoft did a good job by not flooding us with a wall of text and kept it at a decent length, enough to teach us something. Another interesting aspect of the game is that it doesn’t tell us the Germans are evil and the Allies are good. You’ll see both sides doing good and also terrible things.

    Unlike Ubisofts previous game Child of Light, I can easily recommend this game to anyone.

    Tomb Raider Definitive Edition
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    I missed out on Tomb Raider on the PS3 and Xbox 360 so I was glad when I heard that the Definitive Edition was announced. Tomb Raider is a reboot of the franchise that was started way back in 1996. The game stars a 21-year old Lara Croft who gets stranded on a mysterious island within the Dragon’s Triangle off the coast of Japan. The game features a pretty big semi-open world that you can explore as you please. I say “semi” because some locations get blocked off after certain points and the only way to get back to them is through quick traveling. Some aspects of exploration reminds me of Metroidvania style games. You will find some areas are unreachable until you find an item that gives you access to the area. I really like the level of freedom the game developers give us. You’re not forced to play story missions. You’ll find side quests and hidden tombs (that have treasure) to explore.

    The narrative of the game is a focal point and the story is interesting but some aspects of it don’t add up. For instance Lara Croft has never killed before this game takes place and the game developers made a huge deal about Lara’s “first kill”. The moment is intense but after you get through it, Lara turns into a killing machine. She’s able to take down trained soldiers with ease. I know this was probably done for the sake of the “game”, but I feel that if the developers wanted to make such a big deal out of one moment, they could have at least taken it a step further and eased Lara into killing more enemies instead of turning her into Rambo right after the first kill. With that said, I like that there are various ways to go about fighting enemies. You’re not forced to do it one way; you can use elements in the environment to kill, you can use stealth, guns or a bow and arrow. Each has their advantages and disadvantages.

    The game also features some light role-playing elements. As you progress through the game, completing challenges that involve hunting, exploring or killing enemies you gain experience points that you can use to upgrade specific skills or abilities. You can also upgrade and customize your weapons by using material that you find throughout the game.

    Overall so far this is a pretty enjoyable game and I’m curious to see where the story goes.

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    Shovel Knight Review

    Shovel Knight
    I’ve been playing Shovel Knight since it was released last week and it’s an absolute blast to experience. Shovel Knight is a game by Yacht Club Games, a company started by the former director and a few other talents from WayForward; another fantastic developer behind some games like Shantae: Risky’s Revenge, Contra 4, Aliens Infestation and DuckTales: Remastered. Shovel Knight was a game that was funded on Kickstarter, their goal was $75,000, they made over $300,000. So there was a ton of hype behind this game. Shovel Knight was released on the 26th of June receiving praise from gamers and critics alike.
    Shovel Knight gameplay
    The gameplay, music, level design are brilliant, varied and the pixel artwork is detailed and lovely. I’m also enjoying the games sense of humor, you’ll find a lot of characters throughout the game that you can interact with and some say some pretty random things. The controls are tight, which they need to be. The game features a lot of tricky platforming segments similar to that of classic Mega Man games. If you fall off a platform it wont be due to wonky controls, but the players fault. The levels are varied and you won’t play a stage that seems similar to a previous one. Every stage has a theme and a certain gimmick. The same goes for the boss fights. Every one The boss fights are intense and each boss has his own set of special abilities and moves, even if you memorize the pattern it’ll still be tricky to dodge every attack.
    The knight
    Aside from the main quest the game features some side quests and items you can collect if you want the extra challenge. In terms of difficulty, the stages have four checkpoints which is too many but they’re optional to use. If you don’t want to use checkpoints you can destroy each one for extra treasure which you can then use to buy more items or upgrade equipment. Every level has secrets with valuable items you can find. In towns you’ll come across a blacksmith, armor store and a few other shops where you can upgrade your shovel, equipment, health and magic. Across the world map you’ll also find extra stages where hidden treasures and challenges are located. The game also comes with built-in achievements labeled as “feats”. Once you beat the game you unlock New Game+ which features harder enemies, the checkpoints in stages are decreased to just two and there aren’t any health pickups.

    All in all I highly recommend this game, I own it on the 3DS and I love the fact I can play it anywhere. If you’re on the fence about it, just go for it, it’s worth every penny. It’s also available on PC/Mac and the Wii U.

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    Metroid Prime 2: Echoes

    Metroid Prime concept art
    After putting it off for so long I’ve finally gotten around to playing Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. I owned the first Metroid Prime game on my Gamecube but never got around to playing the sequel for one reason or another, but bought Metroid Prime 3: Corruption when it first came out on Wii. A few years ago I was able to get my hands on the Metroid Prime Trilogy collectors edition and replayed the first game again and finally moved onto the second right after. I regret not playing this game much sooner.

    The first thing you’ll notice when you first play the game is that it’s pretty dark. Within the first 5 minutes of exploring the planet Aether, you discover dead bodies tied up and hanging from the ceilings of some caverns. You scan them and discover in detail how each soldier died. The more bodies you find and scan, the more the narrative builds. You eventually discover journals of some soldiers and these pieces of information go into even more detail. And this is what makes Metroid so special, the method in which you build the narrative. Even though it’s a game, you’re not told every detail and it’s left up to your imagination.

    Metroid Prime 2 features a light and dark mechanic. The game is split between two parallel worlds; Aether and Dark Aether. When you’re exploring Aether the atmosphere and the natural environment is friendly to you. But take a portal to Dark Aether and the atmosphere becomes poison, decreasing your health the more time spent in it, the environment are filled with hazards. Your only place of solace are designated safe zones that shield you from the atmosphere and gradually recharge your health. I wasn’t a fan of it. I thought it didn’t really belong in a Metroid game and would be something we’d see in a Legend of Zelda game instead. The mechanic made me feel constricted in my movement and it punished me for wanting to explore Dark Aether. It felt claustrophobic. But as I spent more time playing the game the mechanic grew on me. In Aether you’re free to roam wherever you want, the environment welcomes it. Dark Aether is the opposite. It’s gloomy, everything within the environment is lethal, the water is poison. Something finally clicked and I realized it fits so well.

    Visually the game has aged well thanks to the art style that Retro Studios incorporated. Some textures are low-res but not enough for me to consider it “ugly”. The music is fantastic and each area has a beautiful theme. The creatures and enemies are varied and each area feels alive. I haven’t beaten the game yet and I know of the infamous search for the Sky Temple keys and look forward to reaching it. The game features a lot of back-tracking which I don’t mind since I love the world that’s been built for the player to explore. The story in this game is more prominent compared to the first Metroid Prime game but it’s not something that affects the game negatively. If you come across the Metroid Prime Trilogy at a decent price, don’t hesitate to pick it up. But as of right now Amazon has it listed for over $200, with 5 left in stock.

    I love this franchise and I really hope Nintendo allow Retro Studios to revisit it for their next project. It would be very interesting to see what they’re capable of using the power that the Wii U has.

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    First Person Shooters, How Much Has Changed?

    Wolfenstein comparison

    Since the release of Wolfenstein: The New Order this image above has been circulating around Twitter and other social media sites apparently showing how far games have advanced since the release of the original Wolfenstein in 1992. But how much have first person shooters actually advanced? Not really that much. But is that really an issue? I think the problem arises when we look at the bigger picture. First person shooters are the action movies of the video game industry. They’re not necessarily bad, but they’re abundant, lack variety and can get mind-numbingly repetitive, albeit fun in short bursts. When it comes to first-person shooters we don’t really have much choice between what kind of games we’re playing. There are some exceptions like the Half Life, Deus Ex, Metroid Prime and Portal franchises.

    The original Wolfenstein popularized the genre of first-person shooters and Doom took it a step further, adding more pixels to the visuals and multiplayer modes. They had ultimately set the foundation and precedent for first person shooters for years to come. In the majority of these games your character is tasked from moving from one room to another killing enemies. Moving through the environment is a basic task for the most part requiring no skill or precision movement. The majority the games get repetitive in single-player mode as you’re just walking from one action set-piece to another. That’s the basis of the majority of first person shooters and that basis hasn’t changed since the release of Wolfenstein back in 1992.

    Sometimes you’ll come across exceptions to this rule. These games tend to have a couple of things in common like a strong narrative, choices in how to approach enemies (or avoid them) and environments you can interact with in someway. Half Life was like your typical FPS but it added platforming and puzzle elements. Moving from one room to another wasn’t such a simple task anymore. These two new elements made the FPS aspect of the game less repetitive and added a new dimension to the genre. The Deus Ex games added stealth and role-playing elements. Giving you choice on how you progressed. You could get through any Deus Ex game without shooting a single bullet, or you could go crazy and shoot everything up. Metroid Prime took a 2D game and turned it into a fantastic first-person adventure game. There was a narrative that you could discover by exploring and “scanning” aspects of the environment you were in. It made the game immersive. Portal is a strange game in the sense that you’re not shooting your gun to kill enemies, but to traverse the environment and to solve puzzles. And how weird is it that we consider a game where you don’t have to kill anything unique?

    And it’s rare for a first person game to feature an interesting, engaging narrative. The single-player mode in FPS these days feels like an after-thought. The majority of developers seem to focus more on the multiplayer aspects of their games. Some developers have tried to create interesting worlds and stories. Id software released Rage 3 years ago, creating a big world that you navigate with a car that you could customize. The concept was interesting, a mixture of Mad Max and Fallout, but the execution was lacking. You were basically driving from point A to point B, with nothing interesting happening in-between. It was unnecessary. The levels were for the most part incredibly linear. It was a shame, because Rage had a lot of potential. The enemies could be frightening and the AI was intelligent, moving through the corridors at fast speeds avoiding your gun-fire. Then you had games like Halo, which also have the potential of a powerful narrative and a great single player mode. The single player campaign mode in Halo games ended up incredibly mediocre with flashes of brilliance. The multiplayer modes which were fun in early iterations ended up trying to imitate some of Call of Duty’s multiplayer aspects in the later Halo games, which made the game less unique and the fun short-lived.

    Now that “next-gen” consoles are out developers should be taking advantage of the hardware. Sadly when you look at what games they’re working on it seems that things wont be changing in the near-future. Open-world games, third-person shooters, first-person shooters are all for the most part following very similar formulas. Companies want to have the next “big” hit, the next Grand Theft Auto, the next Call of Duty, so they take less risks and we end up with bloated, huge-budget games that end up not selling well. This turns companies away because they don’t see profit. The video game industry made a profit of $93 billion in 2013, it’s a massive market and everyone wants a piece of it. When the video game market crashed in the early 1980′s it was due to the over-saturation of the market, these days it seems like the opposite is happening, we lack choice.

    Luckily indie developers are making games that are fun, varied and unique. We have designers, artists, programmers leaving the bigger development studios to start their own little companies to create the games they want and that’s really good news for us, the consumers. And luckily, we live in a day and age where these small studios are (mostly) respected and where they have the freedom to publish their games on whichever platform they choose. Ultimately, choice and variety are (obviously) a good thing. I’m not saying that games like Wolfenstein: The New Order are bad games, they can be enjoyable. But the video game industry needs to discover a balance between “more of the same” and the “new”. If not, how long will it be until gamers get sick of playing similar games, over and over again? How long can it stay fun?

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    Flashback Thursday: Great Games, Crap Ads

    Final Fantasy Tactics
    So you’re releasing a spin-off game of an established franchise, What do you do to advertise it? Put out a dull double page ad. It’s not like Squaresoft didn’t have great artists working on the game. They didn’t just have one artist working on it either. They had three great artists: Akihiko Yoshida, Hiroshi Minagawa, and Hideo Minaba. Instead they focused on three topics highlighted in blue. They load up the ad with a bunch of text. It lacks excitement, enthusiasm and quality. The image they do choose to use features 5 generic characters. It doesn’t do justice to some of the more colorful and intricate character designs the game features.

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    Budget doesn’t always dictate the quality of ads. For instance, Ico, a game that didn’t have a large budget had a great double page ad. You’d expect Squaresoft to pull off all the stops to get people excited for a brand new game. The ad campaign for Final Fantasy VII was well done and not overly complex either, using an image from one of the in-game cutscenes. You just feel that they could have done something more with marketing Final Fantasy Tactics.

    Resident Evil 2
    The problem with this Resident Evil 2 advertisement isn’t artwork. The artwork featured in this ad is creepy and well done. The main problem is that there is too much text and too many tiny screenshots. It seems this is a tactic that companies thought was an effective means of advertising a game. I would have rather they have focused on the important text and had three larger screenshots.

    They’re also trying to advertise too many things at once. The game, the strategy guide and some movie sweepstakes. This ad suffers from poor layout so everything feels like they’re squeezed in together. Whoever designed this could have use the space they have more wisely.

    Klonoa
    Klonoa: Door to Phantomile was a new platform game featuring a character named Klonoa published and designed by Namco. So how do you advertise this brand new character that’s meant to compete with the likes of Mario and Sonic? Don’t make the ad about him and place him in a tiny circle.
    Klonoa
    This has got to be one of the most oddest choices in regards to advertising an unestablished brand new game. Who is the target audience? The ad exclaims “Everybody wants Klonoa”, but an ad like this ends up alienating a large fragment of the market. And on that note who is the intended audience? The ad isn’t going to attract young adults because it’s not tastefully done and the screenshots show an unexciting and typical looking platformer. It’s not going to attract teenagers because there’s nothing that grabs their attention. I ended up picking the game by pure chance and ended up enjoying it quite a bit, but it’s no wonder this franchise ended up disappearing after two games.

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    Dark Souls 2: What to Expect

    dark souls 2
    Dark Souls II has been out for a day and there has already been over two million deaths. But don’t let that scare you away. Even though the series is known to be incredibly difficult and frustrating From Software has gone to some lengths to make Dark Souls II more accessible to new comers. So what should you expect when you start a new game? Well, your character moves better than they did in the first Dark Souls thanks to snappier controls. There’s a new attribute you can level up called “Adaptability” that improves the speed your character performs actions. There’s a new common item called Life Gems that you’ll be using to recover your health, it can be dropped by enemies or bought at shops. You can now fast travel between Bonfires, which isn’t as big of a negative as I thought it would be. The world seems larger than the world in the first game. There seems to be more NPC’s around to interact with. Talk to them and they will reveal some lore. Keep interacting with them and they’ll gift you an item.

    But the game has also been made tougher in other ways. Every time you die the total amount of health you have decreases. You have to use a Human Effigy (which are quite rare and expensive to buy) to become human again and remove the limitations set on your health. The more often you die, the shorter your health gets the more “zombie-fied” you look. If you succeed in killing an enemy 12 times, they’ll disappear. This makes it harder for you to farm for souls. On the other hand this can also make things easier by clearing out difficult routes. The tutorial can be completely skipped this time around as well. Oh, and there’s a coffin that can change your gender if you sleep in it.

    There are quite a few other things that are different, things I’m still discovering. And That’s part of the joy I get out of the game. Dark Souls is not a game made for everyone. It’s just not fun for some people which is understandable. The fans of the game all like it for various reasons. It could be the combat system, the PvP aspects, the co-op mode, the intense and brutal boss fights or just the sense of discovery. Most importantly, We all accept that death is an integral part of the experience.

    Ultimately, before making a decision on whether you want to spend money on this game, be sure to read more about it and watch some game play videos. Check out the community on Reddit, they’re (mostly) helpful when it comes to answering questions from newcomers. Even though Dark Souls II is more accessible it hasn’t sacrificed what made it so great to begin with. It’s still a well-made, well-rounded game, it’s still brutal and rewarding and hasn’t been dumbed down. If you’re a Dark Souls veteran you’ll still find a challenge, if you’re new to the game, welcome to the community!

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