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Video: Let’s Compare Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic

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Thanks to the backward compatibility program on Xbox One, you can now play Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) in 1080p on the Xbox One and 4K on the Xbox One X. In this video we compare the resolution and performance of the original Xbox version, the Xbox 360 emulated version, both Xbox One versions, and finally the PC (with an without mods). This video is mastered in 4K at 60 fps, so if you have a screen that supports it we highly recommend viewing on that.

Written by Fred Rojas

April 27, 2018 at 11:00 am

Extinction Review

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Right now video games are in an interesting shift. Multiplayer titles are coming under more scrutiny, so simply throwing a bunch of people into an online situation without a solid gameplay foundation will likely fail. Single player experiences have an even larger problem in that the high price point of a game requires these titles to be a difficult balance of length, story depth, and mechanics. Then along comes a game like Extinction, a mechanics-heavy single player action game that mainly focuses on taking down massive ogres called Ravenii that are trying to destroy your kingdom. Gameplay is king and the goal is to get you so enthralled in mastering the task at hand that you are compelled to return on a regular basis. If this is starting to sound similar to various mobile titles that have hooked us all over the years, it’s because the same concept is employed here. Whether or not that’s substantial enough to justify a full priced game is definitely going to be in the eyes of the beholder.

Comparisons will surely be made between Extinction and Attack on Titan, especially considering the way you take down massive enemies is essentially the same.  You will target various limbs, removing any armor present first, and eventually fill up a gauge that allows you to decapitate a Ravenii.  Beyond that the comparison doesn’t really hold up because Attack on Titan was all about a catapult mechanic that was the central focus in movement as well as attacking the large titans.  In Extinction you are given more of a puzzle that requires you to juggle outside factors during your battle.  There are minor enemies on the ground that can be dispatched, citizens that can be saved, and a town that you must try to keep intact all while keeping the one, or multiple, Ravenii at bay.  This is in addition to the different ways in which to combat the armor they wear, some of which is very straightforward to destroy and others that I have yet to figure out.  Armor is one of my larger gripes about this game because it does such a great job at introducing you to many of the different types and then just throws the most difficult your way without so much as a hint of what to do.  The game is also kind enough to tell me what I’m doing wrong, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what I’m supposed to do right.  This isn’t a deal breaker – although I will concede I’m two missions away from completing the 50 mission campaign – but I really hate when a game gates your progress for arbitrary reasons.  Beyond that developer Iron Galaxy definitely employs the “keep it simple, stupid” mentality of streamlining both controls and the skill tree.  This was a welcome change of pace when compared to the over-complicated mechanics I experience in many games of late, especially the larger scale indie titles.  There’s not much more to the game beyond that, it’s an endless series of skirmishes between a talented warrior and a bunch of big ogres, but man is the combat so enjoyable that I keep coming back.

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Written by Fred Rojas

April 10, 2018 at 11:00 am

Posted in PC/Mac, PS4, Reviews, Xbox One

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The Council Review

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Note: This review covers each individual episode as it releases.  Currently Episodes 1-4 are represented here.  All reviews are spoiler free across the board, no new episode spoils previous ones.

Episode 1: The Mad Ones

If I may be so bold, narrative fiction games have all lacked pretty heavily in the goals they are trying to achieve.  By narrative fiction I mean the pantheon of TellTale Titles (Walking Dead, Batman, etc.), Life is Strange, and even games that weave it into larger experiences such as Mass Effect.  These games all claim to remember your choices, note them, and use these items to essentially alter the story of the game as you play.  It is in this regard where I feel they all fail. The path never changes, the outcome is always the same, and for the most part the only thing that shifts are the characters involved, which are often just proxies for the ones intended in the cannon.  The only game that shook this was the now cult title Alpha Protocol, which was notorious for several delays, a system behind the scenes that was far too complicated, and a lukewarm reception from audiences and critics alike.  The Council, a new episodic title from freshman developer Big Bad Wolf hopes to buck that trend with a game that focuses heavily on investigation, personality, and decision-focused storylines.  If this first episode is an indication of the overall experience, the next evolution of narrative fiction may very well be upon us.

The story is also compelling for those, like me, who are also history buffs.  It takes place in 1793 and you play a Frenchman named Louis de Richet who is part of a secret society, the leader in France being his very own mother.  When she goes missing at a private island off the coast of England owned by the mysterious Lord Mortimer, Louis is called to come to the exclusive landmass.  When I say “exclusive” I do mean that in every way. You can only go there if invited and to call it posh is to devalue the extravagance of everything you see around you; it seems Lord Mortimer is wealthy beyond standards of any one country.  Whenever you deal with a person of such wealth, it stands to reason that notable individuals will also be drawn to them as well, which then leads to the number of true historical characters in The Council.  So far I’ve met George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte but there were hints at quite a few others, not to mention people you could include in spoilers.   The Council makes no qualms about the fact that all of the plots involving historical characters are fictional, but also throw out that the storylines are based on actual facts.  Others are also woven into the plot that I’m pretty sure are not actual figures of history such as Cardinal Giuseppe Piaggi, who works closely with the pope, and an English Duchess who has grown favor with the Crown.  It makes for a great cast of characters and dialogue connecting real history with fictional, making everything that much easier to believe.

At its core the game plays much like a hybrid role-playing game (the traditional definition) and an adventure title.  You’ll partake in several different activities such as investigation, interacting with just about everything to take in the sites and scenery, and of course conversations.  The art design definitely made the vast estate of Lord Mortimer into a spectacle to match his wealth, so I had no problems indulging in just about every bit of lore I could find.  You’ll frequently be forced into scripted events that are primarily dialogue. The episode is broken into multiple chapters, each allowing you to put points into various skills that primarily assist with this dialogue, but also have uses in your exploration.  Since the character tree is designed to last you, presumably the entire 5 episode excursion, you are very limited in the amount of points you get. This makes the decisions in what to level far more critical in these opening moments as you will frequently see opportunities pass you by unless you spec for them.  There’s no catch-all spec, so don’t go trying to min-max because it’s simply impossible. That very much seems by design, which I find refreshing. To assist you in making some of the skills cheaper you get to pick from one of three main personality types. Each personality type has five of the overall skills and the points required to level those are significantly reduced, but that doesn’t prevent you from being able to focus on a non-personality skill if you’re willing to use a larger number of your scant points for it.  This will either be daunting or enticing to certain players, but I was pleased with such freedom and spec options. You will also gain some points organically based on your decisions, but I never counted on them in either of my playthroughs of the first episode. There are also big decisions to be made when deciding where to go or what to do next, which will eliminate the opportunity to see/experience the other. Think of these decisions as the one’s in The Witcher, neither is necessarily good or bad, but you have to make a choice.  It all comes together when you start applying these concepts to your dialogue, which is a significant part of the overall gameplay.

When dialogue happens, it’s either in a peaceful setting where you listen to conversations and attempt to make the most of the situation or confrontations.  If you’ve ever played a BioWare or Bethesda RPG, you’ll be familiar with the concept of the peaceful conversations. As with those games, depending on the build you have for your character, you may be given prompts to intercede with additional information or additional response options.  The game also lets you know when you’ve missed a chance at engaging in a side conversation or extra response so that you can note to build those skills in another play, should you wish to see where it goes. There are also a few wrenches in any situation: each person you speak with has weaknesses and immunities while Louis has a limited number of points to flaunt his abilities.  Those weaknesses and immunities are not known at the onset, so you have to discover them as you go and in many cases that will be when you choose a dialogue option. Each person may have multiple immunities and/or weaknesses, but I’m fairly certain they all have at least one of each. I don’t want to reveal any actual answers, but a good example would be to imagine that the philosopher Plato was one of the guests. He would probably be immune to Philosophy and thus any of your misdirection involving philosophy would be countered and identified, but perhaps if there was a sympathy skill he would have a weakness to it that you could exploit that instead.  At the same time you’ll also need to spend points to perform certain targeted actions, which will vary depending on how much you’ve leveled up that skill. As a result, you may not have enough points to misdirect them in conversation and you’ll be forced into canned choices. It’s pretty straightforward in the game, but I can understand if it feels a bit convoluted here. Then there are the moments of direct confrontations, each with consequences, and those require you to either pass or fail a heated interaction. To fail is to potentially close a door and to succeed has the potential to create allies or even see new sequences or areas. I found all of the dialogue sequences to be rather enjoyable as they are a gamified battle of wits.

As much as there are plenty of positive attributes to The Council’s initial episode, there are some glaring faults that may be deal breakers.  For starters the graphics, while impressive, lack in the animation department.  Whether it’s the game engine or the animators themselves, things just don’t always move in a believable way and the voices don’t always sync up with the dialogue.  I know that’s been a common problem in games this generation, but for one so focused on plot and dialogue it’s distracting here. There are also vast differences in quality with the voice acting of characters, most notably your protagonist Louis.  While the cast overall does a decent job, and I was particularly fond of the Duchess and the Cardinal, Louis has probably the most inconsistent voice acting. He’s alright, but sometimes the performance is unconvincing, especially for someone of his role in life.  I also don’t like the way he represents my dialogue choices at times, either. As already hinted earlier, the systems in this game are pretty complex and it’s quite daunting in the beginning to figure out exactly what you’re supposed to do and how to spec your character.  There’s also the fact that points are over-used as a currency – you use them to build skills, use skills, and also quantify how well you did in the chapter but all from different pools so when the game simply uses the term “points” you may not know exactly what’s being referred to.  Finally the UI leaves a bit to be desired as a necessary evil of trying to make the largest audience happy. Role playing fans will love the endless point sheets, notes in the journal, as well as the mystery of what the consequences of your choices will be without any real guidance. On the other hand, a traditional gamer will probably more appreciate the notes on when you don’t have an appropriate skill, the big green and red text to indicate a success or failure of a confrontation, and incessant battling of limited use items for challenges.  As you may expect, both groups can be annoyed by the others’ selling points, so in the end no one is really happy. As someone who would like to think he’s in the middle, I found gripes with both features, but nothing was a deal breaker.

I enjoyed my time with The Council’s first episode, enough to play a second time and see how things changed.  It’s impossible to tell if this title will be able to stick the landing, but I’m going into the next episode with a large degree of optimism.  I like the unknown and the way this title makes you actually role play instead of try to game the system. It’s totally breakable I’m sure, and anyone with enough free time and a pad of paper will probably be able to point out the part where the seams are showing.  That said, it was far more obvious in most other interactive fiction I’ve played in the past. There will be players that are annoyed by the fact that you have to make so many decisions with no idea what the consequences will be, especially because there’s really no way to course correct once the game is in motion.  I would tell them to simply replay the chapter and hope for a different outcome, but the reality is that few gamers finish titles and even fewer replay them, so that’s unrealistic. To me, The Council offers a unique opportunity to play through an elaborate version of the dinner party murder mystery and captures the feel of true role playing better than its peers.  I played the episode twice and had completely unique experiences by making different choices. If you want to become a different character and run through scenarios and experiences, it’s a worthwhile endeavor, flaws and all.  If this is just another game in a growing backlog that you just want to fly through and move on from, you might be better suited to avoid this. The Council looks to be something special, but as with all titles in this genre, we’ll have to wait for the remaining episodes to confirm.  I really wish this game had a demo, if only the first chapter or two in this episode, because asking people to buy the bundle only seems a bit of a stretch.

Final Score: 4 out of 5

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 19, 2018 at 12:00 pm

Observer Review

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The cyberpunk genre gets tossed around a lot these days.  As with many video games, experiences can quickly devolve into power fantasies and before you know it you’re more Matrix than Blade Runner.  This is not my definition of cyberpunk.  It’s a darker concept with the emotionless merging of man and machine out of necessity, poverty, and corporate societal takeover.  It was built around the concepts of Orwell’s novel 1984, evolved by Gibson’s Neuromancer, and made whole by Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? among others.  I can understand why many don’t walk this path: games are supposed to be fun and cyberpunk is rather bleak and depressing.  That’s why it is so refreshing to play Observer and experience a game that really gets the roots of traditional cyberpunk.  It’s an internal struggle, a socioeconomic dissection, and a disturbing dive into the human subconscious.

Normally I don’t pitch trailers in a review, but the E3 2016 trailer was so compelling that I figured linking it would be beneficial as well as jog some peoples’ memories.  Observer places you in the shoes of Daniel Lazarski, who lives in Poland in the year 2084.  After a digital plague involving bad cybernetic enhancements, mega corp Chiron has taken control of Poland and created the Fifth Polish Republic. Both the plague and the new Republic brought about a class-based society, war, drug addiction, and of course oppressive martial law.  Lazarski is an “observer,” a special police unit that has the authority to hack into people’s minds and access memories in a device called, get this, the “Dream Eater.”  The game opens with Lazarski receiving a call from his estranged son seeking help and asking him to meet in one of the rougher parts of lower class living.

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Written by Fred Rojas

August 24, 2017 at 11:00 am

Joust Review

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Joust.  Yes, that ostrich game you may have read about in the fiction novel Ready Player One by Earnest Cline. Well I’m going to talk about it today because the site needs more arcade love and its about time Joust had a review. Full disclosure, I did review this game across a few emulators including MAME and multiple Midway Collections on Mega Drive (Genesis), PSP, and Xbox. This review will feature some brief discussion on the cabinet itself, which I have been fortunate enough to try at retro gaming conventions.

Released in 1982 by Williams Entertainment, Joust is single screen joystick and one button flapping mash fest. You play a knight riding on the back of the magnificent ostrich. With a lance in hand, your goal is simple: take out every enemy rider on screen. Then you repeat that wave after wave until you run out of lives. The single button on the cabinet is responsible for flapping wings of your feathered beast. You have to rapidly press the button to get your bird off the ground, but once you have the momentum going it becomes quite the skill to take down the other riders. You need to be slightly above the other rider and hit them to take them down. Once they are out of action an egg will drop which you’ll need to collect before it re-hatches a new rider and you have to take them out all over again. It becomes a juggle of priorities, choosing to take out the other riders or collect the eggs. The first wave, titled “Buzzard Blitz,” is fairly easy. Just three opponents spawn to ease you into the game, but like with a lot of these Williams games don’t be disappointed if you do loose all your lives on the first wave. It can take a few attempts to come to grips with the controls and figure out your strategy. By this point – back in the arcade days – you would have sunk a decent chunk of change into the cabinet.

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Written by jamalais

July 1, 2017 at 11:00 am

Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap Review

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I’ve been waiting for a Wonder Boy revival ever since I saw that dammed “to be continued…” message at the end of Wonder Boy in Monster World on the Mega Drive. I did get some relief when the Wonder Boy Collection was released in 2012 for Xbox 360 and PS3, however. This game featured the localized version of Monster World 4 which was the sequel to the beloved game from my childhood. Of course this was just an English translation of a Japanese game that had been around for years. Some would be happy with this but, I wanted more Wonder Boy darn it! Which was why, last year I came over as giddy as a school kid when I heard Wonder Boy would be making a return in not one, not two but three games. One of these three games, Wonder Boy: The Dragons Trap developed by Lizardcube, is a remaster of the 1989 Sega Master System game. While not exactly a new entry into the Wonder Boy series, Lizardcube have put a lot of care and attention into this title, reviving a classic forgotten game to showcase to old fans and a potential new audience.

The Dragons Trap is a beautiful remaster with hand drawn graphics, which brought Monster World to life by filling the 2D game with lots of detail in the backgrounds as well as the character sprites. The game allows you to instantly switch between the old and new graphics at the touch of a button. This simple effect doesn’t interrupt the gameplay and allows you to see just how much effort has been put into the remaster when held against the original. The soundtrack has also been updated this time with a full orchestra. The music is still reminiscent of the old 8 bit titles but has really been brought to life with the updated score. Just like the graphics you can also switch between the old and new soundtracks at the touch of a button.

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Written by jamalais

June 7, 2017 at 11:00 am

Seasons After Fall Review

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There is an undeniable attraction to Seasons After Fall.  In what I can best describe as a painting come to life, the striking graphical style draws your attention and the playful orchestral soundtrack keeps you interested.  The game presents a simple premise: a fox, a forest, and magic.  It’s a compelling argument, even before the first true moments of gameplay.  Things aren’t always as they seem with this title, however, as it doesn’t quite play as good as it looks.  Your tolerance to design quirks aside, the value of this title lands solely on the premise that it delivers on what I think games should do: take you to another world.

Seasons After Fall originally premiered on PC last fall during a time that seemed more riddled with open exploration puzzle platformers – I refuse to refer to this title as a “MetroidVania” – including Ori and the Blind Forest and Unravel.  Despite looking similar to these other titles, they are very distinct from one another, but somehow always seemed to be lumped together.  Seasons After Fall now comes to consoles in a direct port, but it’s successfully separated from these familiar looking games.  It’s a true puzzle platformer, best proven by the lack of combat in the game.  Yes, there’s absolutely no fighting, attacking, running from enemies, no enemies at all, and no boss battles.  Nope, this title is as a pacifist as they come.  There’s also no penalty for dying, if you can even call it that since falling into the rare pit results in you simply being brought back to the ledge you jumped off.  Despite these facts, don’t write off Seasons After Fall as a mindless stroll in the woods, because the challenge is in solving the puzzles and as the game progresses there’s a decent incline in difficulty.  It’s at this point you’ll either like how this title attempts to challenge you or hate it.  I might even say it’s impossible to describe your time with Seasons After Fall without mentioning at least a few moments where you are utterly stuck with no idea what to do.

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Written by Fred Rojas

May 15, 2017 at 11:00 am

Outlast 2 Review

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Outlast 2 is a truly unsettling game.  No matter what you are doing at any one moment, there is sure to be something unpleasant about the situation, even when it’s more game design than content.  The follow-up to Red Barrels’ 2013 take on the horror genre demonstrates what you want out of a sequel by taking everything up a notch.  Along your path you will be jarred, challenged, see things you wish you hadn’t, and even feel helpless.  It also improves upon the flaws of the original and provides countless visuals that I fear may have made me more desensitized to brutal violence than ever before.  If you want controversial topics, this game has it in stride from the inhuman, to unthinkable tortures, and even a strong anti-religious undertone.   Then again, making you flinch is the entire point, isn’t it?

If Outlast was a haunted house, Outlast 2 is the spook walk.  The setting changes drastically, moving away from the confines of a lowly asylum and into Arizona’s Sonoran desert, where a married couple are investigating the mysterious murder of a young pregnant woman.  Things quickly escalate when their helicopter crashes and the wife, Lynn, goes missing and you take control of husband Jacob in search of her.  Where the original Outlast tended to use confined spaces to build tension, Outlast 2 thrives in large, open environments where you could find anything among the foliage from intense danger to nothing at all.  It truly becomes more of a stealth title than anything else and dare I say reminded me more of the first half of Call of Cthulhu Dark Corners of the Earth than anything else.  Rarely do you see the same scare or scenario play out, which is a welcome change from the redundancies I experienced in the original and kept me far more in focus.  The storyline baits you to keep moving forward more than anything else and your handy camera is no longer simply night vision but also a journal that documents the plot points along the way, which can be reviewed at any time.

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Written by Fred Rojas

April 24, 2017 at 2:00 pm

Perspective of a Retro Gamer: Resident Evil 7

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This series is basically a review of a modern game but with the context of a retro gamer visiting the present.  As such it does not contain a review score and often speaks to concepts and franchises from the past.  This article is spoiler free outside of what is revealed in trailers and public demos, which is why the screen shots are so vague.

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Resident Evil has had a rocky journey over the last five years, up to and including the “Beginning Hour” demo for this very title.  The comparison to P.T., Hideo Kojima’s “playable trailer” for Silent Hills that has since been canceled by Konami, is unmistakable.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I don’t want my Silent Hill getting mixed into my Resident Evil, the two should remain mutually exclusive.  Couple that with the recent missteps of Resident Evil 6, my personal distaste for Revelations 2, and whatever goal Umbrella Corps. had, it wasn’t looking good.  I for one was also a bit worried about the hodgepodge of features thrown at this title including support for 4K resolution, PS4 Pro support, Playstation VR support, and HDR support on all platforms.  To my shock and awe, every bad indicator going into the release was without merit as Resident Evil 7: Biohazard demonstrates a return to form I have not felt since the remake of the original on GameCube in 2002.

resident_evil_7_eerieSet in an old farm house in Louisiana, you play as main protagonist Ethan in search of your girlfriend Mia, who went missing years ago.  Those that played through the “Beginning Hour” demo, especially if you caught the final “midnight edition” will find the opening scenes to be familiar but clearly re-engineered.  I like this touch and I feel it was necessary for how many times Capcom made us play that thing in hopes to figuring out what was with the dummy finger and several other mysteries from the last six months.  While it’s interesting to play through – not to mention the reward you receive for completing it with the good ending and the on-edge “kitchen” demo on Playstation VR – none of this is required if you’re just jumping into the main game.  It reminds me why I’ve always appreciated the original work Capcom did on the Resident Evil series.  Whether it was “arrange mode” in the original, the way the mansion was reworked in the remake, or even the drastic differences between the shack in the demo and the main game of Resident Evil 7, you won’t be able to guess what’s coming.  After that opening sequence you will descend into a literal house of horrors and beyond that kept me on the edge of my seat and thoroughly creeped out for a majority of the game’s 8-12 hour campaign.

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Written by Fred Rojas

February 7, 2017 at 3:00 pm

Sleeping Dogs Definitive Edition Review

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2016s Game Club selection may as well be renamed “Jam’s gaming bucket list” as the vast majority of the games we have played this year are titles I’ve been wanting to play for sometime but just haven’t got around to. I could use the easy excuse where I say I’m too lazy or too busy but I choose to go with the excuse that I was on a long and arduous quest to find twelve jade statues in order to prevent the end of the world by new year. Fortunately for myself and humanity I completed that quest, surprisingly in Sleeping Dogs as well and I’m able to finish off 2016 with my review of the game. All in a days work I guess.

sleeping_dogs_definitive_edition_1Sleeping Dogs is an open world game set in Hong Kong where you play as Wei Shen an undercover cop who is attempting to take down the Triads from the inside. Of course its not that easy for Wei. He soon becomes close with the gangs leading you as the player to question who Wei is truly loyal to. While the story is certainly serviceable and well acted by the voice cast I never felt completely invested. There are some emotional moments in the plot with key characters but the ultimate pay off seemed somewhat lackluster. With the game ending open ended and setting up for a sequel, is disappointing since United Front Games has now closed and the chances of seeing this sequel are very slim.

As with most sandbox games there is a mix of various gameplay styles. Sleeping Dogs main stand out feature is the hand to hand fighting system. Wei Shen is well versed in martial arts as is every bad guy in this game who you’ll usually take on in large groups. You can attack and counter in a system very similar to the infamous Batman Arkham games, although Sleeping Dogs appears to have its own rhythm to its fighting system. I found that you had to be very careful with your button presses to begin with. Once you got the games own rhythm down, I was quite capable even with the odds stacked largely against me, once I got to this stage I felt like Bruce Lee (insert broken table). You can also grapple enemies and maneuver them to create devastating environmental kills such as impaling guys on sword fish or smashing someone’s head into a urinal which reminds me of a fond scene from the film True Lies with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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Written by jamalais

January 5, 2017 at 11:00 am