Batman, a Telltale Series: Season Review

(Disclaimer: The following is a non-profit unprofessional blog post written by an unprofessional blog poster. All purported facts and statement are little more than the subjective, biased opinion of said blog poster. In other words, don’t take anything I say too seriously.

The following post also contains endgame and heavy SPOILERS. Be advised.

Just the facts, cause you’re in a hurry.

Retail price: 24.99 USD

How much I paid: 22.99 USD

Rated: M for Violence, Blood and Gore, Language

How long I played: 11 Hours. 5 Hours for initial playthrough and 6 Hours for playthrough going through alternate choices.

Microtransactions: Technically, yes. Episodes are packaged individually at 5 USD per episode but are sold as a season to access all the story content.

What I played on: Regular PS4 and PC.

Performance Issues:
While Telltale’s Batman story might be good, MAN does it have huge technical problems. Even on my High End PC (which can run Gears of War 4 and The Witcher 3 without a problem), I was getting mismatched lip-sync, framerate drops, and long loading times. On the PS4, the game almost slows down to a crawl trying to load the scenes, the shadow effects sometimes stutter, pop-up textures and I had numerous instances where the game crashed on me and I had to restart the game. In the latest episode, a floating set of eyes and teeth were seen flying around, when I realized that was supposed to be an NPC but the bugs rendered the NPC invisible. While Telltale has released patches to fix these issues, the fact remains that a game ‘this’ graphically demanding, requiring a next gen console or absurdly high specs for PC, shouldn’t be having this number of issues, especially with Telltale’s continued embrace of cartoon graphics.

My Verdict:
Not as good as Telltale’s the Walking Dead: Season 1 or Tales from the Borderlands, but not as disastrous as Telltale’s Jurassic Park or Game of Thrones, Telltale’s Batman sits comfortably in the middle of its library. Some good performances and plot turns keep things interesting, but you can’t help but feel the story is playing it safe while your choices continue to have little to no major impacts on the plot. It’s an okay Batman story for an okay Telltale game. If you’re a fan of either, go ahead and pick it up. But, for those who aren’t sure, get it on sale or watch a playthrough of it.

Batman, a Telltale Series: Season Review
(Originally posted on December 13th, 2016).

Batman was always one of those properties that continued to be a mainstay in popular culture. After more than 75 years in the spotlight, the story of Bruce Wayne avenging his fallen parents by dressing up as a Bat, has been told, retold, rebooted, deconstructed, parodied, mocked and had all sorts of things done to it and still more media outlets continue to tell this story again and again. Batman’s such a reliable fixture that multiple characters and spin-offs are added as a continuation of it. (Hell, by the writing of this review, DC just approved a film of the Gotham City Sirens).

So, when Telltale had announced they would be adapting it, I was excited. Telltale had made a lot of good games in the past and I had hoped I could get a fresh perspective from them. Remember, this is Batman we’re talking about. His character somehow manages the feet of being both appealing to children and adults and never really goes out of style. It’s been both a kid’s cartoon AND a deconstructive commentary with discussions of police states and anarchy. Writers such as Paul Dini and Frank Miller have tackled him. So, if anything, Telltale should bring a fresh new perspective on him.

What they settled for was more aimed at adults, but still reasonably human. It could be called Batman: Year 3. Bruce has been around as Batman for a while and the city’s still unsure about him but isn’t willing to turn away his help. Meanwhile, Bruce is fundraising his friend Harvey Dent’s bid for Mayor. But when both a mysterious Cat Burgler and the infamous mobster Carmine Falcone visit him on the same night, Bruce must find a way to stop crime as Batman and making sure his reputation isn’t torn to shreds as allegations of his family’s ties to the mob surface.

As the story continues, Bruce gets dangerously close to Selina Kyle, his friend Harvey begins having a mental breakdown and starts enforcing Draconian laws on Gotham, the terrorist group known as The Children of Arkham, led by their leader, Lady Arkham revealed to be Gazette reporter, Vicki Vale.

Bruce must find a way to stop Vicki’s plot to tear Gotham apart while also dealing with Oswald Cobblepot’s attempts to seize control of Wayne Enterprises and Harvey Dent’s slowly unraveling psyche.

The standard elements of the Telltale are there. Players choose dialogue in timed sequences and make decisions which may or may not alter the plot in significant ways. Inbetween, they can walk around small areas or hubs and interact with the environment until they pick the right combination of items to forward the story. When faced with enemies, players enter quick time events and must successfully input a series of button combinations in order to advance the plot. New to the Telltale formula is the ability to plan Bruce’s ways to attack by linking an enemy to an object. For example, Bruce may have the option of throwing a henchmen to a flight of stairs or towards a statue. In some of the exploration areas of the game, Bruce may reconstruct a crime scene using holograms in his cowl’s visor and link elements together so can create a picture of what happened.

Bruce is our character once again and little has changed about him. Still the billionaire playboy, Telltale wisely puts the character through the wringer by revealing that Thomas Wayne had ties to crime. As such, Bruce’s reputation is under constant attack and Bruce has to walk a fine line, lest he get thrashed in public. Troy Baker plays Bruce and this is the first time where I felt he was out of his depth. I really love Troy Baker, but of the two personas he has to adopt, he’s clearly more at home as playboy Bruce than the Dark Knight.

Alfred (played by Enn Reitel), continues to play the faithful butler. He doesn’t change much outside his numerous iterations in other stories and acts as the moral conscience for Bruce. The story eventually focuses on Bruce’s and Alfred’s relationship and I think it works for the most part (even if I get the suspicious feeling other stories have done this job of establishment for Telltale).

Selina Kyle frustrates me. Let’s get right down to it; Telltale obviously wants Selina to be a love interest. Even in situations where she would be turned off by Bruce (Bruce can abandon her to save Harvey in Episode and choose not to flirt with her), she still feels intimate towards Bruce and gets physically close to him. (To be fair, I get that she finds a sort of kinship with another masked individual). And Telltale gives you the option to reject her advances. However, after episode 3, Telltale doesn’t know what to do with Selina. They constantly write her out of situations and her final revelation of why she wanted to get close to Bruce (turns out she was just getting close to try and steal a gadget from Bruce) feels consistent to the character… but I couldn’t help feel that Telltale just ran out of ideas with what to do with her. They attempt to make the flirting justified and give Selina an agency of her own (Batman wasn’t using Catwoman for sex. Catman was using Batman the whole time!), but it feels so sudden and cheap. Laura Bailey does what she can for the character, but she can only do so much when the character’s written out so much for half the time.

Harvey Dent is probably the most tragic of the characters, even more so than Vicki Vale. He’s clearly a man who wants to do what’s right for Gotham but as his psyche slowly unravels, he becomes a tyrant and enforces Draconian rules such as armed checkpoints, all in an attempt to stopping the Children of Arkham. Travis Willingham portrays great range as the character, but the writing tends to be off. Harvey begins his descent when the Children of Arkham give him a drug that makes him want to do what he wants. I never really liked this angle (for the record, I would’ve preferred the Animated Series take where Harvey’s repression of his emotions creates a 2nd persona) mainly because it takes away the agency of the character as opposed to having his actions be of his own accord. Look, Batman tends to have an… icky message when it comes to mental illness (even though the game gives some much needed lip service saying that mental patients need professional help), and it just looks bad that Bruce is beating up a bunch of Asylum patients, even if some of them are homicidal maniacs. Even worse still, while the game attempts to give you moments to ‘save’ Harvey (such as preventing the incident which burns half of his face), Harvey just descends into madness anyway. Giving the player agency at these functions makes it feel like nothing can be done to save Harvey, even if you’ve been loyal to him. Worse, that stupid scene in which Harvey bumps into Bruce and Selina in the apartment just really tears me apart. (Even if you chose ‘not’ to sleep with Selina), just because it makes both Harvey and Selina emotional idiots instead of rational adults. If the character does work, it’s more because of Travis’ voicework and the series’ past involvement of depicting the tragedy of Two-Face.

Oswald Cobblepot is just odd to me. Unlike Harvey, Telltale decided to redo a new backstory and origin for Oswald, making him childhood friends with Bruce. However, since we never see the scene of Bruce and Oswald as kids (until Episode 5 and only if you chose to stop Harvey in Episode 4), the friendship falls flat. As such, you only really see a violent psychopath who wants revenge. I think he’s supposed to be a foil for Bruce; Bruce who succeeded in life as opposed to Oswald who’s out of money. But, none of the traits add up. It all feels separate from one another. At first Oswald talks about revolution. Then he takes Wayne CEO. Then, it’s revealed he’s some sort of tech expert. None of that really sticks together to make a cohesive whole. Then, the whole Penguin aspect is just sort of shoe-horned in. Look, I get not wanting to do the whole ‘half man half penguin’ thing Burton and the Animated Series did. But, getting away from the Penguin aspects is just as ridiculous as it is in Fox’s Gotham (he walks like a Penguin). They make him wear a mask that looks like a Penguin and he has computer files with penguins on it, but it doesn’t make sense. Jason Spisak does what he can, but it’s mostly just an English Accent.

is easily one of the best characters in the series. An unpredictable psychopath that’s oddly helpful to you but you can’t help feel something’s terribly wrong with him. Anthony Ingruber plays him and infuses him such malice and shock that it completely steals the episode for what little screentime he’s in. The Joker’s always been a character that tends to work better the less you know about him and Ingruber’s incarnation just charms the pants off you.

Lady Arkham/Vicki Vale is the main antagonist of the series. She reveals her identity at the end of Episode 3 and her motivations slowly become apparent as time goes on. Both the victim of losing her parents to Thomas Wayne’s experiments and abuse from her foster parents, Vicki essentially plays the foil to Bruce (which Episode 5 explicitly states in case you didn’t get it), showing what a corrupt version of Batman would be. And while the mystery box usually irritates me, there’s enough pacing and pay-off to make me feel satisfied, even if the previous choices surrounding Vicki seem just like window dressing. Erin Yvette gives her just enough sympathy and malice to make the character feel well-rounded.

I should also mention the number of technical issues I encountered in the game. Granted, Telltale games usually tend to hit the lower quality when it comes to graphics and performance, but I forgave them since the PC specs were low enough to play on my old PC and the writing was strong. However, Batman wishes to up the Telltale engine by having higher spec requirements. As such, I had to upgrade my PC and test the game out on my PS4. There were numerous bugs and visual glitches in both versions while the PS4 version crashed multiple times. And while the game looked slightly ‘better’ on my PC (again, I can run the Withcer 3 and Gears of War 4 no sweat), I was getting numerous framerate drops, long loading times and dips to 50 FPS. Add to that a woeful lack of options to fix the visuals and I can’t recommend either version without a significant patch.

Batman feels like more of the same, both from Telltale and the Batman franchise. In a franchise ripe with story material, it plays it safe and mostly lands on ‘pretty good Batman story for older fans’.

But that’s faint praise considering the highs it could’ve had.

Batman, a Telltale Series: Season Review

Gears of War 4, a review

(Disclaimer: The following is a non-profit unprofessional blog post written by an unprofessional blog poster. All purported facts and statement are little more than the subjective, biased opinion of said blog poster. In other words, don’t take anything I say too seriously.


Just the facts, Because you’re in a hurry

Retail price: 60.00 USD

How much I paid: 9.99 USD (The game was on sale for 35.99 USD on the Windows Store and I happened to have a 25.00 Amazon Gift Card which I applied towards the game)

M for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language

How long I played: 7 Hours on Main Campaign on Casual + Several Hours on Multiplayer

Microtransactions: Yes. Packs a player can purchase to get customized weapons, characters and materials. Players can ‘earn’ credits through multiplayer matches. Expensive packs can cost 129.99 USD.

What I played on: PC

Performance Issues: Gears of War 4 is one of the better optimized games this year. Learning the bigger lessons from the Gears of War Ultimate edition to heart, Microsoft makes the game not only beautiful to look at but smooth to watch as well with a steady 60 FPS. With the occasional pop-up texture and drop during cinematic cutscene far and few in-between, Gears of War 4 is a delight on PC.

My Verdict: If you’ve been a returning fan to the series like I have, You’ll enjoy this and should buy it. But, the now infamous cover shooter mechanic has been mined and reused to the point where, no matter how well it’s done here, it feels like a once innovative gameplay mechanic has become a cliche. Newcomers and non-fans are probably better waiting to rent this or waiting until it goes on sale.

Gears of War 4, a review


(Originally posted on December 2nd, 2016)


Way back in the Holiday season of 2006, after spending a year behaving myself and a good report card, I’d received one of the greatest gifts of all: An Xbox 360 along with the exclusive game, Gears of War. Epic Games’ entry into the Microsoft Exclusive gave them one of the hottest games of the season and was labeled a ‘must buy’ by many gaming journalists and pundits. It was even dubbed a ‘Halo Killer’ a game so innovative and popular that it would eventually rival the Halo Franchise.

One of its major innovations was the perspective of third person and using nearby rubble or environmental objects as cover. As Marcus Fenix, a gruff and hardened prisoner joins the resistance of COG, you took cover in nearby backgrounds and fired against various enemies. Dubbed ‘the cover based shooter’, this concept has been used and reused by not only Gears of War, but other games as well such as Mass Effect, The Order 1886 and even Rockstar games such as Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption have made use of this.

But, now 10 years later, the cover based shooter has become something of a cliche and overused. It’s entry is little more than a footnote in a genre of first person shooters and is seemingly forgotten by the tides of time.

Has the once dubbed ‘Halo Killer’ lost its edge?

The leader of the reformed Coalition of Ordered Governments, First Minister Jinn (Angel Desai), commemorates the 25th anniversary of humanity’s victory over the Locust. Meanwhile, an elderly Hoffman who is present at the ceremony recounts past battles at Aspho Fields, Emergence Day, and Anvil Gate.

Gears of War 4, in many ways, feels like a return to basics. While there are a few new additions here and there, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it’s a return to the way things were, for better and worse.

Meanwhile, J.D. Fenix (Liam McIntyre) , son of Marcus Fenis, and  Delmont “Del” Walker (Eugene Byrd) have recently deserted the COG after disagreeing with Jinn’s hardline policies and join a group of Outsiders led by Reyna (Justina Machado). In order to help their village, J.D. and Del decide to raid a nearby COG settlement under construction to steal a special fabricator. They are accompanied by Kait Diaz (Laura Bailey) , Reyna’s daughter, and her uncle Oscar (Jimmy Smits), a former Gear and Locust War veteran. Though they are forced to battle the COG’s new robotic DeeBee soldiers, J.D. and his group manage to successfully steal the fabricator and escape back to their village. They are then confronted by Jinn (broadcasting via a DeeBee), who accuses them of kidnapping her people, much to their confusion, before launching an all out assault on the village. J.D. and his friends manage to repel Jinn’s forces and get to work repairing the village’s power generator. However, in the midst of repairs, unknown creatures raid the village, capturing everybody including Reyna and Oscar. As her last act, Reyna locks J.D., Del, and Kait inside the power station to protect them. Dubbing the unknown attackers the “Swarm”, J.D. reluctantly asks his father Marcus Fenix (John DiMaggio) for help.

This is the biggest problem with the story; despite wanting to be about new and original things, Gears of War can’t help going back to the fountain for those nostalgia. Despite the passing of the torch from Epic Games to The Coalition as developers, you can almost hear the game celebrate when Marcus Fenix returns to the game. And it’s probably for the best too.

Look, say what you will about Marcus Fenix being this celebration of ‘toxic masculinity’ and an ode to a barbarian era long since forgotten and his fetishism for military weapons being problematic or whatever (I’ve made it no secret, I wouldn’t mind a game with a problematic message that pulls me in emotionally over a game with a progressive message that leaves me cold), at least Marcus is interesting. J.D. is just Vaseline on White Toast. He’s not even the interesting kind of problematic where I’m both amazed at the gall and audacity of what they made. He’s just bland!

The same problem occurs with Del and Kait. Kait probably has the closest anyone has in this game to having any sort of arc; her mother is missing and Kait’s desperate to find her, but once the prerendered cutscenes end, it becomes obvious that Kait’s desperation sort of disappears. She just reverts back to making jokes with the rest of the group. None of which are particulary funny.

Not for lack of trying, mind you. Despite Kait’s desperation in the cut scenes to find her mother, she doesn’t mind glibbing with with J.D. and Del about what they’re looking at. At one point, all three of them seem interchangable and keep trying to be ‘funny’ but even after what must’ve been 100 jokes, not one of them rendered a chuckle out of me. And keep in mind, that’s Laura Bailey voicing Kait and she’s been a riot in other games and media for her performance. Only here, she and the rest of the cast just come off as unfunny.

All the meanwhile, I kept saying “You all can’t be the comedic relief; someone has to be the straight man!”

Meanwhile, Marcus makes a side comment about his “Fucking Tomatoes” and it had me rolling on the floor. John DiMaggio (voices of such characters as Dr. Drakken and Bender) has fine tuned his voice and the character to such a degree as to give Marcus real personality and weight, even if the actual character himself is little different from his military counterparts of Master Chief and Commander Shepard.

The campaign itself doesn’t really offer any new surprises. There’s an interesting sequence here and there, but the game is pretty much an introduction of our new characters as well as set up for potential sequels.

The Multiplayer itself hasn’t changed all that much as much I can tell (Keep in mind, it’s been a long time since I played the original GoW). The standard modes are there: King of the Hill, Team Death Match and others while other modes such as Arms Race, where the team that does more kills gets better weapons, and Guardian, where a designated player is assigned as the Leader and if killed, the respawns end for the group are unique to the franchise. Keep in mind, though, most players use the Gnasher, so if you don’t like seeing Shotguns as a main use of weapon, you’re out of luck.

New to the franchise is the ability to purchase card packs in order to speed up your progress and get fancy new items and customizations. While you can earn credits from playing matches, there are plenty of microtransactions around because Microsoft doesn’t know the lesson of greed. Considering that certain packs can go up to 129.99 USD, I’d avoid using them at all costs.

To me, Gears of War 4 feels like an old friend you haven’t seen in a while and though it’s fun catching up with them, I couldn’t help remember why I decided to stop associating with them in the first place.

Still, a part of me can’t help but feel nostalgic whenever I use the chainsaw bayonet on an unsuspecting enemy.

Rating: Fans of the franchise: Buy it or get it on sale during Black Friday.

Non-Fans or Newcomers: Rental or Wait for sale.

Gears of War 4, a review

Uncharted The Nathan Drake Collection a review

Uncharted The Nathan Drake Collection a review


Uncharted was always one of those franchises I straight up never understood the appeal of. It just seemed to me the most generic, focus tested, boiler plate franchise starring the most generic, focus tested, boiler plate protagonist of them all: Nathan Drake, a would be archeologist who more than once gets way in over his head while searching for a mysterious artifact all while cracking wise with his sidekick, Victor “Sully” Sullivan and romantic interest, but also strong and independent but not too independent because god forbid we make a game with a female protagonist, Elena Fisher, aspiring journalist. Of course, said artifact is also being sought out by a rival and nefarious villain and it’s not before long before Nathan discovers the artifact is cursed and better off destroyed.

So, of course the franchise would not only make millions of dollars but also make one last installment on the Playstation 4, the upcoming Uncharted: A Thief’s End.

It’s not even the gaming snob/ bleeding heart liberal in me that finds it hard to see the appeal of the Uncharted franchise. Yeah, Nathan’s whiter than Wonder Bread, straighter than an arrow and could’ve been factory produced given how he and the numerous other (sing the song if you know the words, readers) white, male, cisgender, heterosexual protagonist who kills hundreds if not thousands of brown henchmen dominating video games, but that’s not the deal breaker for me. Even, the angry, introvert, inner 13 year old inside of me is having trouble seeing the why everyone loves this character so much. I mean, speaking as someone who was and occasionally is an angry teenager, I can tell you why I would like ‘problematic’ characters like Kratos, Marcus Fenix, and even Hatred’s The Crusader. But even as someone looking for a male power fantasy, Uncharted just seems… bland and generic. It’s as if they took 1 part Indiana Jones, 2 parts National Treasure, added cover based shooter with quick time events and Assassin’s Creed’s platforming, blended them together to make the most safe puree of “been there, done that”.

I mean, I grew up with a Playstation 1 and 2 and remember when Naughty Dog was on top of the world. We had Crash Bandicoot, a wacky apple eating mascot wanting to take Nintendo down. We had Jak and Daxter, a boy with yellow greenish hair with his buddy who got transformed into a funny animal sidekick. Yeah, even when Jak and Daxter went from family friendly to more Mad Max, it still had a creative and visual energy that seems to be missing here. We went from that to Nathan Drake?

Enough of me yelling at the cloud; Here’s a review of Uncharted: The Nathan Drake collection.

We begin with Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune where we see Nathan Drake attempt to find the lost El Dorado. Having never seen the 2000 animated film by Dreamworks, he uncovers clue after clue leading him closer to the mystery of El Dorado. The beats are there: shoot-outs and set pieces, awkward flirting with the opposite gender, the betrayal and each new villain more disposable and impersonal than the last. The game sets up the formula the series would follow: part cover based shooter, part platform game on ruined landscape a la Assassin’s Creed and part puzzle solving. And when I say puzzle solving, I mean reading your very convenient journal which flat out tells you the answer.

The Platforming is at times wonderful and other times frustrating. Part of the ‘charm’ is having Drake traverse backgrounds that are part of the in game engine. Wonderful at first, until you’re unable to distinguish between what’s climbable and what’s part of the background, and thus fall to your death again and again and again. Heck, you can even miss a jump and Nathan will fall 10 feet and suddenly die!

Then, there’s the cover based shooting. I don’t know when exactly I got sick between cover based shooting, but somewhere between Drake’s Fortune and Drake’s Deception, I began hallucinating and seeing chest high walls everywhere. The gun variety is limited in the first game and the enemies seem to repeat themselves over and over again until the last 10th of the game when monsters start showing up. And the infamous ‘bullet sponge’ enemies appear. Look, I don’t care how much body armor an opponent wears, if I shoot them in the head, basic physics dictates they should drop like flies. Just the same, I don’t see how killing a foe with my pea shooter pistol would send them flying 5 feet into the air.

I finished it in 6 hours. Short and to the point, which is fine by me.

The 2nd Uncharted game, Honor Among Thieves, involves Drake finding the lost city of Shangri-La, alongside treasure hunters Harry Flynn and Chloe Frazer. (Fun fact: Harry Flynn is voiced by Steve Valentine and Chloe is voiced by Claudia Black when the game was originally released in October of 2009. The two would also appear in a game released one month later called Dragon Age: Origins with Valentine voicing Alistair and Chloe voicing Morrigan). As Nathan is betrayed by Flynn, he learns more about Shangri-La’s secret as well as meeting Harry’s new partner, the psychotic Lazarevic, a gun for hire seeking, what else, power that made previous dictators such as Genghis Khan and Hitler so powerful. Big surprise: the item they were seeking is cursed, Nathan has to destroy it and said boss and save the world. And, of course, enemy variety doesn’t change until the last 10th of the game.

I like this story a little better than Uncharted 1 (note I said ‘a little better’) as Harry feels like a more personal villain to Drake rather than the literally and figuratively disposable villain of Eddy Raja, but I’m not sure why I should side with Drake other than perspective. Remember, we learned that he and Chloe were willfully omitting Marco Polo’s treasure from Harry to begin with so I don’t see why Nathan is relatable in that scenario when he and Harry could be so interchangeable. Just the same, I like how they’re trying to make Nathan act more of a hero (there’s a part where he must escort Elena’s cameraman whose wounded through a battlefield), but I don’t understand why he’s acting all good and heroic. Elena, I understand because she’s a humanitarian, but why is Nathan suddenly being a goody good? He clearly had no problem stealing and/or killing guards previously, why does he care now?

Also, this seems to be an odd place for Nathan to start developing skepticism in what’s he’s seeing and what Shangri-La holds when in the previous game, he literally saw a man transform into a monster after inhaling some dust. You’d think he’d be just a little more open minded about the mystical after witnessing it first hand.

There’s also some stupid love triangle business with Nathan’s old flame Elena and new girl, the Australian Chloe Frazer. Yes, you’ll forgive me if I could care less whether Drake will get with Hot Girl A or Hot Girl B. It’s not that Emily Rose and Claudia Black don’t infuse as much personality and depth that could be wrung out into their rules (which is a lot thanks to their superb voice acting skills), it’s that I don’t see why I would be emotionally invested in this cliché plotline starring Indiana Jones 2.0 here. For all I know, Elena and Chloe have more than enough reason to dump his snarky ass.

Some new weapons and new melee combat system, but I wasn’t impressed. Yeah, climb all the dangling trains off of cliffs all you want; I’m still not invested. I finished it in 8 and a half hours.

The 3rd Uncharted game, Drake’s Deception was really the first time I started to give a minor of a toss about Nathan, and that’s because the game actually goes into Nathan’s backstory and origins, showing him as a young street urchin trying to make it big. You know, those things that are really helpful when you’re trying to engage with the character? After playing through that sequence a part of me went “Wow. That puts Nathan in a totally different and slightly relatable light. Why didn’t you put that in your series sooner?”

The part I also like is that it’s starting to develop Nathan and Sully’s relationship. Too often we see the tacked on romance with him and Elena, but seeing a student and older mentor is something of a rarity. I think the reason why focusing on this works so well is because Nolan North and Richard McGonagle have such great chemistry together and  Nate having a father figure seems to have more in terms of depth. Naughty Dog also tries to address the whole ‘race problem’ (i.e. Doesn’t it look icky that this white guy is mowing down lots of brown people?) by suggesting that Nathan might be of South American descent. (It’s left ambiguous.).

I also think Katherine Marlowe is a much more personal and effective villain than antagonists from previous installments, and it’s great to see an older woman be in a video game and add a little class to the game. Rosalind Ayres did both the voicework and motion capture and I think it was a great move on Naughty Dog’s part (though unfortunately, she inadvertently ends up the conflating the good equals beauty bad equals ugly trope.)

It’s also the point in the series when the characters start questioning Drake of why is he going to such great lengths to find his lost treasure. At one point, Elena points out that Nathan has beaten his namesake, Francis Drake, in terms of progress and that if Nathan were to stop right now, the villains would not succeed. Rather, because of Nathan’s pride and stubbornness, he puts Sully and the world at stake.

One of the things I liked is how they finally got the melee combat system to look semi-realistic. Combat in previous titles was always repetitive while Uncharted 2 improved it ( a little bit mind you). Uncharted 3 gets the combat right and looks and feels amazing. Add to that the ability to throw back grenades and I was actually starting to (gasp) like the franchise.

It’s not all perfect, though. There’s an extended section in the middle involving a rogue pirate and a flooding ship that seems almost entirely disposable and seems only to be there because Naughty Dog had built set pieces before writing the plot. It almost has nothing to do with the story save one minor detail (which could’ve all been avoided if Drake had asked himself the obvious question: “Wait, what if that guy was lying?”).

I finished it in 8 and a half hours.

One of the big criticisms of the game was the decision to cut out multiplayer from previous titles. Before, players could play the Uncharted 4 multiplayer beta with a special code, but I believe the code has expired now (I received the game well after it was over). I wish Sony could’ve put it back in, but I’ll take what I can get.

The Uncharted series, is by no means, ‘bad’. It’s well polished, presented well and handles fine. If you haven’t played the Uncharted series before, this is a good place to start. If you owned it, I’d watch a couple of comparison videos before purchasing, some of the HD rendering looks a little off to me.

Still, I have to wonder how we got here of all places. We went from spinning Bandicoots, wrench throwing Lombaxes, Thieving Raccoons, Purple Dragons, rapping dogs to… some generic guy who wants treasure?

Who knows? Maybe, it’s me.

Verdict: Fans- Buy it!

Non-Fans: Try before you buy.


Uncharted The Nathan Drake Collection a review

Beyond: Two Souls Remastered, a review

Beyond: Two Souls Remastered, a review


Well, this was the one. Of all the PS4 remastered games I had wanted to play, this was one of them. I had been intrigued by David Cage when Indigo Prophecy first came out and wondered where his career within the video game industry would lead to. Lo and behold was I about to find out.

Jodie Holmes is a young girl who is somehow connected to an invisible entity called Aiden. Throughout her life, her connection to Aiden puts her into perilous situations as she must fight off dark entities and will go through the various stages of being a teenage girl, a CIA agent, a rogue operative as well as meet various people along the way.

David Cage’s worst enemy is David Cage himself. Embracing his ever-so-tiresome auteur theory, Cage has a unique vision he wishes to impart on the world. I use the term ‘unique’ when I should be using incomprehensible. Despite Cage’s at times brilliant direction of scenes and mixing of musical tracks, he proves himself completely incapable of orchestrating human emotions, instead focusing on the various framerates and textures his supposed games.

Back in 2005, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, hoping to see a brilliant visionary find his legs and move the medium of video games forward. But, it’s no longer 2005. Games, especially games that are redubbed “interactive movies” have advanced. For the length of time it has taken Cage to write/direct/produce 3 games, other studios (including Telltale) have moved on past him.

Time and again, Cage has been given the financial capital and resources to put his visions on screen when other smaller studios struggle to even make a profit. And time and again, Cage continues to blow those budgets on making the games look real but never feel real.  This allows me to come to one conclusion:

David Cage is kind of a moron.

He understands emotions and emotional moments, but doesn’t understand that in order to feel ‘anything’ for those moments, you’d have to have the proper context for it. Take one brilliant example. During a moment when Jodie is homeless, she contemplates suicide. It’s a powerful moment to be sure, but because of Cage’s insistence that the story be told out of context, we don’t understand why Jodie wants to kill herself. It is literally a powerful scene completely undermined by Cage himself. The music is there, the animation looks gorgeous, Ellen Page is delivering her best performance but David Cage trips himself up. (For the record, yes, I did play the Remix version as well and while it does a slightly ‘better’ job of putting things into perspective, the episodic format still makes large chunks of Jodie’s life still seem missing).

So, like any good imitator of the form, David copies what he sees without understanding what makes them work. So, David Cage understands suicide is sad, but he doesn’t understand that suicide is only sad when you are given a proper crap about said players on stage. He ‘borrows’ from every source imaginable from “Metal Gear Solid” to “James Bond” to “Terminator” without understanding what made those works great.

There were so many times when I would be placed in the middle of a situation and not be given proper a motivation or objective on what to do next. I lost count of how many times I would wonder aimlessly in a given location, hoping to activate the next cutscene. I guess that’s the ‘point’ that Jodie explores her surroundings so we can see everything, but it feels confusing. Other times, I let the controller sit, wondering if I could let the scene play without Aiden interfering, only to realize Aiden’s interference was necessary to move the scene forward.

Then are the Quick time Events which are… odd. Instead of following an arrow and pointing the control stick towards it, you’re supposed to wait until Jodie goes through a slow motion prompt and press the direction of the prompt to which way Jodie’s limbs are moving. (For example, if the shot is framed where Jodie’s arm is traveling from left to right, you move the right stick towards the right). It seems simple, but multiple times I couldn’t tell if Jodie’s movements were going and ‘tripped’ several times. (Not that it matters since the scene manages to go on regardless of how many times Jodie messes up. Turns out that since the story is told in media res, Jodie won’t die, but select NPCs around her can.)

I couldn’t possibly tell you what kind of character Jodie is because the game wouldn’t let me know. The problem isn’t simply Jodie is reactive, it’s that she can’t be anything but reactive, to the point where the story feels little less like a full blown narrative and more like a series of episodes showing why Jodie’s life sucks today.

Ellen Page has proven herself to be a great actress and she brings here all here as Jodie, alternating between a scared little girl who’s almost alone and a hardbitten ex-CIA operative capable of taking down grown men. It’s too bad Cage’s storytelling completely undermines her performance, introducing scenes without any context and thus making it impossible to empathize with her, despite Page pouring her heart on screen. Thankless role, indeed.

One thing needs to be understood before tackling the “Is Beyond Two Souls sexist or racist” debate.

David Cage is kind of a moron.

What I mean by that is that is that Cage falls into the trap many amateur directors/writers do and believe that by making a “strong female character” strong the same way a man is or in a masculine way, they’ll be loved by the feminists out there, instead of making a strongly written character. As such, Jodie feels like a multitude of traits instead of a complex human being. She’s a scared little girl or a rebellious teenager or CIA agent or a homeless person looking to survive. It’s not that these traits and career descriptions ‘can’t’ be part of one person; it’s that there has to be some sort of narrative throughline for all these events otherwise they just feel like a series of events linked by “and then” instead of “however” or “because”.

Just the same, the depictions of Jodie helping everyone from First Nations persons to a small child soldier in an African nation are David Cage’s idea of being respectful as no doubt he’s oblivious to the ‘white savior’ subtext in each of them.

David Cage frequently indulges. When I say indulges, I don’t simply mean action scenes (though if we’re to be completely honest, that is one problem), but he frequently craves melodrama and overdoes every scene. Every scene needs to be some sort of Oscar worthy moment but without the nuance or subtlety, it quickly becomes a ham-fisted affair. In some ways, Cage’s frequent indulgence for melodrama can be compared for George Lucas’ indulgence for CGI or Michael Bay’s indulgence for explosions. In some ways, I might’ve preferred Bay’s fratboy sensibilities. Yeah, they’re problematic, but at least they’re honestly problematic being told from Bay’s heart.

The punchline of the whole story is that Cage’s ‘method’ has been taken and done better from him. Games from Telltale and even the recent Life is Strange have been Cage where it counts. Even the schlockly self-aware B-movie horror game “Until Dawn” understands interactive movies better than Cage does.

The only thing I can call Beyond: Two Souls is… silly. It got so ridiculous towards the end, I started laughing. I don’t know what to call it, maybe I had temporary gone insane or just gave up on it and decided to enjoy myself. If you are looking for a choice based game, fear not; there are a variety of endings for you to pick from, all with large variances.

What game developers should be learning from David Cage and Quantic Dream is that more isn’t necessarily better. David Cage has received millions to make his brand of games and make no mistake, the production values are phenomenal. But even with Lorne Balle’s great orchestral score, the most beautiful graphics and motion capture possible, the acting juggernauts of both Ellen Page and William Dafoe, none of that’s going to matter if your story is a nearly incomprehensible mess with tone flip flopping every which way. What can only be defined as auteurism gone awry, Quantic Dream reveals the negative side of what happens when a sole voice shuts out all reason or criticism.

If you haven’t tried Beyond: Two Souls yet, I recommend grabbing your nearest alcoholic beverage and drinking while playing this game. I finished it in 9 hours and I suspect you’ll enjoy it, if only for a laugh. But if you’re not into David Cage’s  brand of games, watch a Let’s Play instead.

Verdict: A dumb, silly, stupid good time with alcohol.

Beyond: Two Souls Remastered, a review

God of War III: Remastered, a review

God of War III Remastered a review


So, I am continuing my reviews about PS4 exclusives.

A little background on me. I had owned every Sony/Playstation console up until the 7th Generation where there was this competition between the Wii, the Xbox 360 and the PS3. Eventually, I had decided to settle on an Xbox 360 because of one franchise: Mass Effect. Yes, ‘that’ Mass Effect. Because I was so sure that Bioware was in a position where it couldn’t possibly do anything wrong or do something to screw up their good reputation.

Yeah… (But also I had ‘read’ that Heavy Rain was gearing for a multi-platform release like its predecessor, Indigo Prophecy, only for the developer Quantic Dream to run into financial problems and have Sony bail them out ensuring console exclusivity).

Thus, the PS4 allows me ample opportunity to try out classic games I may have missed previously with Remastered High Definition remakes of older games. For those of you unaware, ‘Remastered’ games are installments of games from the previous generations but given highly more detailed touch-ups as to show off the processing power of the current console generation. Lots of journalists and video game critics and consumers are wary of this trend and fear it is a sign of stagnation within the industry as it’s not producing any more original content and can coast on a loyal fanbase’s feel for nostalgia. However, it’s working out great for me since I’m able to play games I missed out previously in all of its detailed glory. One game I missed out on: God of War III.

When we last left Kratos, he was riding on top of the Titan Gaia in an attempt to wage war on Olympus and achieve his major goal, killing Zeus who he just learned is his father. Kratos continues to slice, dice, tear off limbs and murder every sentient being he comes across (unless it’s a massively bosomed half-naked, skinny waisted goddess, to which he’ll simply bed her).

There’s something in the level design of God of War that makes me appreciate it. Just when I think I’m getting tired of all the violence (which would be difficult since the combat feels smooth and flowing), there’s a unique looking aesthetic or level that brings a smile to my face. The camera knows just when to zoom out and pan back enough to reveal something missing or show a solution to the puzzles. Just the same, the puzzles are just difficult ‘enough’ to warrant a pass from me. It’s not as difficult as other puzzles in other games, but there’s a unique solution to each that makes me go ‘hey, that was much more clever than I expected it to be’.

As for the story, it’s not going to be anything revolutionary for a lot of people. It’s your standard McGuffin plot with lots of backtracking and unlocking of previous areas that weren’t there before. What’s most odd is the inclusion of the character of Pandora, who seems to be the moral center of the story. But her message about Hope seems muddled and confused, especially since a) we haven’t seen her until almost the final third of the game and b) Kratos seems to be affected by her while still carrying Helios’ head as a torchlight. (Maybe that’s SCE Santa Monica’s idea of a joke?).

There’s no getting around the ‘cultural message’ (or lack thereof) God of War 3 has. It IS violent. It IS sexist. It IS problematic on a deep level and for a lot of people, it will probably turn them off. I don’t know if there’s any excuse for it and for saying it’s going to make a healthier society, but… there’s a sort of creativity to it. Yes, God of War could be the equivalent of an angry drawing made by a sullen, emotionally disturbed 13 year old who blasts Linkin Park and Three Days Grace from his loudspeakers every chance he gets, but it’s a well-made drawing that manages to out-do itself every time. It’s not simply Kratos will tear the limbs off his enemies, it’s that he’ll tear off the skull, pee in it and then drop kick it to the nearest civilian. It’s so hyper exploitive that it kind of charms me. There’s an audacity to God of War that I can’t help admire, even if it is aimed towards the lower common denominator and probably won’t be looked kindly from progressives.

God of War 3 is offensive, violent, sexist, misogynistic, problematic, degrading, sadistic, machismo, hyper-masculine, infantile, juvenile and immature on every conceivable level. But I enjoyed the Tartarus out of it! If you haven’t already picked up God of War 3 last generation and don’t wish to go through Playstation Now’s streaming service, I highly recommend it. I had gotten this for 20 USD from my local Redbox, but I would have gladly paid more for it.

Verdict: Buy it!

God of War III: Remastered, a review

The Order: 1886, a review

The Order: 1886, a review


So, over this holiday season, I had received the gift I had wanted all along, a Playstation 4! With this new powerful hardware in my disposal, all I need now are quality first party titles waiting to fill the system.

Yeah… The PS4 wasn’t exactly known for its abundance of exclusive content that isn’t a remaster of an older game from the PS3 era. However, in February 2015, there was a ray of hope. After previews upon previews of a new title waiting to fill the void. After years of watching E3 presentations of this game’s highly detailed cutscenes, Sony fans were ready to pounce. The Order: 1886 featured a secret order of Werewolf hunters using high tech weaponry, making all the fans salivate and nearly pee their pants in anticipation.

…Then someone with an early review code beat the game in 5 hours and posted it on Youtube, deflating all the hype.

Is the criticism real or unwarranted? Let’s find out in this review of The Order: 1886.

You play as Sir Galahad, one of the Knights of the Order, a secret society formed by King Arthur and aided by Nikola Tesla and use a variety of highly advanced steam punk gadgets and weapons to take down Lycans, horrible half breeds of werewolves. However, Sir Galahad soon uncovers a conspiracy in the works and may find himself fighting the very organization he helped so much.

The game is your basic standard cover based shooter (Gee, I wonder what Sony’s ‘inspiration’ for this game design is). Multiple enemies will descend on you and you shoot at them from cover, using a wide variety of weapons, ranging from your basic pistol and shotguns, to the more creative electric arc throwers and shoulder cannons.

The lycans themselves, hyped by all the trailers, are literally few and far between. The fights to take them down aren’t much difficult either. You can wait for the lycans to attack you and simply press the button prompt to get out of the way. The will continue this tactic until you shoot and kill them, not presenting much challenge.

In an attempt to be ‘cinematic’, the game features lengthy cutscenes and quick time events for Galahad to pass. Most of the button prompts are not difficult to master and the game saves frequently so you aren’t punished too hard if you mess up. Unfortunately, while the graphics and sound track deliver some of the best detail to date, the story is sadly lacking. Just when more and more interesting details are about to be revealed, the game abruptly ends, feeling more like a prologue than a complete tale told. For a game that was originally twice the price of a season of Telltale and half the length, I was a bit unsatisfied. Not even the characters are that engaging. Remove all the European influences and English steampunk and all you have are basic archetypes, very basic ones at that.

For the record, I had beaten the game in 7 hours. While I had difficult with some of the gun fights (there was an annoying shoulder cannon opponent that wouldn’t die), I still didn’t have too much of a tough time. Yet, I felt empty at the end. For all the talk of cinematic experiences and movie like productions, the story left me cold and empty and wanting more (not in a good way, but in a ‘that’s it’ way). I don’t even feel like there’s much replay value. I’m not sure what I would gain from replaying the game again that I wouldn’t get from the first playthrough other than a trophy.

The rest, as they say, is history. Mediocre scores from various review sites, (including the controversial IGN and Polygon, whom many accuse of taking bribes for giving high rating scores) caused the developers to pull TV ads in protest and those who had bought the game on day one were disappointed.  According to VG Chartz, the game hasn’t even broken 2 million units.

I had bought this game for 10 USD at my local Gamespot, brand new. Given all the resources poured into this game, I can’t help feel the developers wanted… more. If you’re thinking about picking it up and if your local Redbox still has it, I think it would be the best method. Still, if the developers want to try their hands at ‘story heavy’ games, they’d first better realize that the story better be up to snuff in the first place.

Verdict: Get it cheap or rent it (Redbox is preferable).

The Order: 1886, a review

Let’s Talk About: Dorian Pavus

(Disclaimer: The following is an unprofessional blog post from an unprofessional blogger. Some assertions may be rife with logical fallacies including but not limited to strawmen. In other words, I’m the guy who liked all 4 Bayformer movies. Clearly, you should not take my opinion seriously.)

Warning: The following blog post will contain spoilers about Dragon Age Inquisition. If you do not wish to be spoiled, it is advised you read something else.

Let’s Talk About: Dorian Pavus

“He taught me to hate blood magic. ‘The resort of the weak mind.’ Those are his words. But what was the first thing you did when your precious heir refused to play pretend for the rest of his life? You tried to…change me!” –Dorian Pavus, Last Resort of Good Men

(Originally posted on January 12th, 2015).

I kind of want to do something different from reviewing games. Of course games are worthy of critical analysis, but once in a blue moon, a video game character will come up that should warrant a fair amount of discussion. And I’m not talking about blank slates or Nintendo characters who didn’t have much story or narrative to begin with. (Besides, there’s already a guy on the internet who talks about that sort of thing.)

Since games have been able to use cut-scenes and record dialogue, certain games, especially RPGs, are attempting to craft more narrative focused games, with cut-scenes playing more and more out like interactive movies. Characters and NPCs now have the ability to have dramatic arcs, respond to player actions and have backstories of their own.

So, I decided why shouldn’t I take a microscope to certain characters and dissect them? So, who should be the first to be critically analyzed? Some obscure character from the golden age of gaming? An iconic female character long forgotten in the mainstream media?

The first character I will analyze will be… Dorian of House Pavus from Bioware’s Dragon Age Inquisition.

Dorian gained a lot of controversy when David Gaider revealed Dorian’s sexuality in an interview for being the first ‘fully gay’ companion. (For the record, Sky from Jade Empire and Zevran from Dragon Age: Origins were bisexual, while Steve drove the drop-in shuttle and played more of a support role ) Of course, many video game commentators, such as MundaneMatt, asked ‘what was the point’?

Dorian first joins the Inquisition through one of two ways: If the Inquisitor chooses to recruit the mages, Dorian joins them while trying to stop his old mentor Alexius before uniting the Venatori, Tevinter radicals, with the rebel mages. Otherwise, if the Inquisitor chose to recruit the Templars instead, during Corypheus’ attack on Haven, Dorian will be outside and have vital information.

The thing about Dorian is that his homosexuality and his condemnation of his homosexuality is being put upfront in the spotlight. His homosexuality isn’t a ‘twist’ or ‘hidden’ or ‘brushed off as a non-issue’. He’s gay, on the spotlight and pretty flamboyant when you think about it.

His personal quest pretty much ties into his sexuality and warrants discussion. After the Inquisitor gains enough approval, Mother Giselle gives the Inquisitor a letter saying a family retainer wishes to meet with Dorian and to meet them at the Redcliffe Tavern. You have the option of showing Dorian the letter, but do it regardless. You and Dorian go to the Tavern, only to see Dorian’s father instead. Dorian confronts his father, expressing his anger at what Dorian’s father did. (He tried to use Blood Magic, the ‘evil arts’ of the Dragon Age universe, to make Dorian straight and make him go through an arranged marriage).

So, what now?

Like I said, I like that Bioware is ‘trying’ (if not necessarily succeeding) at writing queer characters. Yes, other games have had gay or bisexual characters, but most of the time it feels like a tacked on thing or used for stereotypical matters. For example, in Skyrim, you can get ‘married’ to various NPCs of the same gender, but they have almost little to no personality of their own (then again, Skyrim’s ‘marriage’ system of simply getting hitched after a quest seems rather plain). Even the Saint’s Row franchise ribs on this aspect as a joke to poke fun at Bioware. The companions of Bioware, despite their quality or lack thereof when it comes to the writing of said companions, are characters given a distinct personality, set of morals and personal quests to complete.

What sets Dorian apart is that the idea of homosexuality being a taboo or looked down upon is new to Bioware games. In Mass Effect, SW:TOR or even Dragon Age, the setting seems to be fairly friendly or neutral to the idea of homosexuals. (The most we’ve gotten before is the Warden’s surprise when Zevran or Leliana flirts with them while being the same gender as them). But other than that, no one seems to bat an eye. There was even discussion in DA2 that companions weren’t bisexual but rather ‘playersexual’ as in they would change their orientation to be with Hawke. (If that’s the case, wouldn’t they be Hawkesexuals?) While other companions don’t seem to mind if you are gay or whatever. (For example, Sera simply lets male Inquisitors down if they try to flirt with her and doesn’t bring up her homosexuality as an issue while Josephine and Iron Bull just go with the flow. Even Steve Cortez’s homosexuality seems broad enough that the character can be written as any man grieving over a spouse, male or female. ).

There’s been lots of talk of ‘erasure’ in mass media or to be more specific, not letting a character’s homosexuality be brought up to highlight them. Often, the balance between ‘stereotype’ and ‘sell-out’ is one that is constantly up for debate, and something I’ve mentioned before. Make the character too flamboyant and stereotypical with the colorful dresses and lisp, they become a walking joke. But simply having a character say they are ‘gay’ without showing any significant traits or putting said homosexual traits in the back burner or off camera. You’re ‘pandering to the mainstream’.

I think Dorian walks this fine line enough. His homosexuality is mentioned, but that isn’t ‘all’ his character is. Promotional art has labeled him ‘the Redeemer’, a mage from Tevinter who’s trying to combat extremists from corrupting his homeland. He’s also very curious about Corypheus’ origins and tries to make sure his country’s reputation isn’t put further in the gutter. He’s very pro-mage, anti-circle and even realizes that the Grey Wardens would be valuable allies.

I also don’t see how Dorian’s homosexuality has been ‘forced down the players’ throats’. Unlike Steve Cortez, Dorian is an optional party member. The Inquisitor does not have to keep him around if they don’t want to. You can tell him in Skyhold to leave and he’ll do so. Likewise, his romance is optional and male Inquisitors do not ‘have to’ romance him if they don’t want to. One can play through the entire story without even realizing Dorian is gay (in fact, I was quite surprised to read forum comments at the realization  that Dorian was a male exclusive romance.)

Dorian even hooks up with Iron Bull if you take them out enough times.

The romance itself is quite tame. After meeting Dorian’s father, Mother Giselle will confront Dorian about rumors that the male Inquisitor and he are together. Dorian will ask your opinion on these rumors and the Inquisitor will be prompted. If he flirts with Dorian, Dorian will return with a kiss.

There’s also the matter of Dorian missing an amulet, being fenced by an opportunistic Orlesian looking for power from the Inquisition. As long as you don’t kill Ponchard, Dorian will approve and offer a sex scene. (You can commit to a romance either way with or without seeing nudity. The actual ‘act’ is never shown, but you do get a prolonged shot of Dorian’s buttocks).

For what it’s worth, I think Dorian is still a great character. Beyond his homosexuality, he’s a funny wisecracker who glibs just enough to be endearing. He also cares a great deal for his homeland of Tevinter and wishes to stop the Venatori from ruining it. Ramon Tikaram does a great job voicing him. Gay characters in fiction, especially video games, seem to be missing at the moment. While I can’t say I need developers to put them there, I do appreciate that the effort is being made.

I can only hope that other developers or even Bioware are up to the challenge.

Dorian confronting his father-

StarduskLP’s analysis of Dorian-

How did you feel about Dorian? Do you feel that his quest was heavy handed? Was it on the nose? Was it pandering?

Let’s Talk About: Dorian Pavus