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Josh Smith

Josh has been interested in video gaming and technology since the early 80’s. Growing up in Maine has proven difficult, but he’s found ways to gain access to hardware and software not typically seen in rural parts of the country. Now living near the coast, Josh is happily married with two young children and is teaching them the ways of the Force. Unfortunately, it’s the Dark Side.

Review – Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon

Flashback to a time where everything sucked.

When 2012 began winding down, a shot from the dark took the gaming world by surprise. Far Cry 3 released to impressive reviews and fan applause, presenting a free-roam shooter that put exploration and story progression solely in the hands of the player. With dozens of tasks to accomplish, despite it’s odd, seemingly shallow story, the game still received praise. Building upon that positive foundation, Ubisoft has released Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon. Simply speaking, if you loved all the cheesy, stereotypical parts of the 80’s and you loved Far Cry 3, this game was made with you in mind.

Set in what the 80’s saw as a future-2007, Blood Dragon takes place on a post-apocalyptic landscape where nearly everybody, including protagonist Rex Colt, is part-cyborg. Using stereotypical tropes from the 1980’s, Blood Dragon plays out like an awful, B-list action movie, but does so intentionally. With a cast of characters that is every bit as ridiculous as Rex Colt, the dialogue is asinine; coupled with the classic 8-bit cut scenes that give a nod to the consoles we grew up with, no game has ever embraced or encapsulated the cheesiest decade of all time better. Complete with training montage, gratuitous cursing, and obligatory sex scene, the story pits Rex against the Omega Force, an out-of-control organization bent on world domination.

The gameplay remains largely unchanged from the retail release of Far Cry 3, with only new visuals and a new story being implemented. The Blood Dragon is also introduced, a killer reptile with a penchant for chowing down on the cybernetic hearts you rip from the foes you dispatch. Though combat rewards players with massive XP, players will be far too underpowered to battle one of these beasts until the end of the game. Weapons are limited to an assault rifle, shotgun, sniper rifle, pistol, and bow. Yes, the bow makes a return and, like each of the other weapons, is given a futuristic makeover in order to feel more like the rest of the game, that is: cheesy. Collectibles return in the form of VHS tapes, CRT televisions, and “secret files” that are as silly as they are humorous. With a nod to another Ubisoft series, Rex often expresses his disdain for collecting the items, but his monologue indicates further hatred for collecting flags or feathers, a clear shot at Assassin’s Creed.

Hunting missions also reappear, though on a level far removed from that of the retail release. Simple “track, find, kill” orders are presented and the player is rewarded with attachments for weapons as the missions are completed. In addition to the hunting missions, players will also seek out hostages held by Omega Force and try to save them from certain death. If you’re spotted or don’t get to the hostage fast enough, the hostage is killed and you’re forced to try again. These missions are accepted from the multiple kiosks inside the garrisons that you’ll find and liberate, an identical mechanic to that of Far Cry 3.

Though the story is unapologetically short, the silliness of it all is part of its charm. Some modern-day pop culture references, including annoying memes, are tossed in for good measure, which is a confusing addition considering the apt for maintaining an all-80’s theme. The gameplay offers nothing new beyond some smirks and laughs and by the end of the 8-10 hours it takes to see 100% of the game, even the music will start to wear on you. It’s a nice re-visit to a magnificent game, but unless you loved the 80’s, loved Far Cry 3, and love gameplay that offers no clear point, Far Cry Blood Dragon is not for you.

Overall score: 5.5 out of 10

Disclaimer: This game was provided by the publisher for review purposes and is available on Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network, and PC/Steam on May 1, 2013.

Review – Sacred Citadel

A beloved series gets a new coat of paint

In the world of Ancaria, the setting of the Sacred universe, there is a deep layer of character progression and role-playing inherent to both the first and second game in the series. New downloadable title, Sacred Citadel, steps away from the isometric view of old and presents a side-scrolling, beat-em-up with mild shades of RPG. The bright colors and appearance of particular races certainly cast a nod to the Sacred lore, but the overall feel of the game is something that fans of the former titles will find to be out of place.

Gameplay takes over in Sacred Citadel, implementing a single player campaign or a co-op experience with up to three players, a disappointing design choice considering there are four classes, each of them unique. The warrior, mage, shaman, and ranger each play their roles precisely as you’d expect, focusing on high defense, magic, healing, or high damage respectively. Each character can wield dual-melee weapons or a class-specific unique weapon that adds another layer of gameplay as players constantly compete for high combos, attainable with carefully executed button presses. Blocking and dodging is a key element to ensuring survivability, though dodge is truly the only defense you need, particularly when battling bosses. As players maintain high combos and unleash pain against the constant stream of minions thrown against you, a special ability meter builds with up to three levels of destruction, each significantly better than the last in both visuals and execution.

As players progress through level after level, traveling through murky swamps, dark mines, or even snow-capped mountains, enemies may drop items that are of particular use. Weapons and armor become available, creating a meta-game between players as they dash to pick up what may increase damage or defense exponentially. Fear not though, because the others in the group can simply head back to the town area, a hub used to resupply on potions, purchase new arms and armor, or freely trade their weapons for anything that the group has gathered on their journey.

Though the artstyle and the camera angle are drastically different than that players will remember from the other Sacred titles, with the new hack-and-slash action/adventure gameplay that Citadel boasts, they compliment each other perfectly. Earthy browns and grays give way to brilliant bright colors that splatter character models and terrain equally. Combat also presents a visually stunning maelstrom, though players who tend to glance around the scenario will lose sight of their character during particularly busy scrums. A flick of your right thumbstick will bring you rolling out of the combat, but also may put you in harm’s way, a frustrating experience when you’ve been carrying a max 99-hit combo for a large portion of the combat.

Finally, while the combat is never grossly difficult, specifically with the help of a friend playing cooperatively, the final boss you face in the fourth chapter (prior to the already-released DLC), is frustratingly difficult. Granted, one you pick up the pattern and work to counter his aggression it becomes a tad easier, but defeating him without the help of a dedicated healer is a tiresome process. Implementing a boss-fight with multiple instances of refilling health is a practice that has grown beyond troublesome and is a cheap design choice. Rather, a difficult battle without that gimmick would make for far better gameplay, a better personal experience, and would present a feeling of uniformity throughout the experience. As it stands, the boss-fight in question, while being the end of the main campaign, is a thorn in the side of what is generally a fun experience.

Sacred Citadel may well be the prequel to a highly anticipated Sacred 3 that returns to the gameplay that we’ve grown to love, but as a stand alone title it delivers, particularly when playing with friends. Though it’s disappointing to be limited to three players overall, the combat is fast-paced enough to present a challenge. Players are expected to use their combos in order to experience the full-spectrum that the game has to offer, but many will fall into a trap of using the same moves over and over again, which can get tedious. Playing alone can be a chore, but as a shared experience, Sacred Citadel is certainly worth the investment.

Sacred Citadel is available on the Xbox Live Marketplace for 1200 Microsoft Points, or $14.99 on PC/Steam and Playstation Network.

Overall score: 7 out of 10

 

Disclaimer: A copy of this game was provided for review purposes

Review – Dead Island Riptide

Zombie killing, loot grabbing survival!

After the desperate scramble to escape the island of Banoi in the inaugural game of the series, Dead Island Riptide emerges to plant the survivors, of which you play characters immune to the virus, amidst the inhabitants of Palanai — what’s left of them anyway. Zombies are a stubborn bunch and often find a way to escape whichever landlocked habitat they’re usually discovered on, which is precisely the case with Riptide. Though gameplay and a story that is largely similar to the first title, the story and minor tweaks are the only real changes players will notice. And that’s not all bad.

The inclusion of a new playable character is a welcomed benefit, but most players familiar with the franchise spent time with the first and will immediately import their character, starting more than halfway to the maximum level. The effect is a strange discovery that the game is near an exact copy of the original, at least in terms of gameplay and skill progression. As you continue to level, new skills are opened up or you can improve on some of your existing skills, which helps deliver a feeling of “badassery” as you hunt down the undead. Combat has remained largely unchanged with new weapons as the most notable difference. With wolverine-like melee weapons designed specifically for the new character, the repetitive action sequences that plagued the first game return, but players will be forced to change their own styles in order to experience variation; the different weapon types help accomplish that.

Technically speaking, Dead Island Riptide is not great, with problems that crop up during the most mundane of tasks. Zombies will frequently get stuck on environment, weapons will seemingly disappear and the targeting system, both for weapons and simply picking up debris is a constant chore. When spending time in the water particularly, and facing a horde of the undead, on consoles the frame rate slows to a crawl, creating a 3 to 5 second stutter that can sometimes mean life or death. Rain is also added to help create an ominous setting, but the constant stuttering from rain to sun back to rain over the course of only five or six feet simply makes the game look buggy. Despite those issues, Riptide still delivers an aura of danger and fear. The sunshine on this tropical paradise shines down and creates shadows at nearly every corner. Combined with the constant swaying of trees or the rolling of water, the shadow effects will trick your eyes into seeing danger where there is none. Combined with the wonderful audio cues of wild animals or even distant, screaming zombies, the island itself feels “alive”.

The story progression is set at an odd pace, as well. After spending hours in one area, players are moved, rapid-fire, through additional zones only to end up at the final area. The story justifies why players would move so quickly through these areas, but seeing the detail and size of the maps players will spend most of their time in will raise questions as to why certain areas weren’t made deeper or more expansive. The use of darkness in these areas is brilliant, creating a whole other depth of fear from the bright, beautiful island you’ll come to familiarize yourself with.

Not many changes were implemented for Dead Island Riptide over the first game of the series, but the real question is: did changes need to be made? Looking at the game objectively and noticing its flaws is easy. It’s buggy and creates noticeable problems for the player, but none that every effect the ability to play the game overall. The story spans from jungle-to-city, seemingly just an opposite progression from the first game, but the game never really takes itself too seriously, with characters spouting off cheesy one-liners throughout. Fact is, the game is fun. It remains a zombie-slaying, loot-grabbing survival game that sets the tone for the series to continue. Despite the flaws, Riptide is fun and deserves the accolades its received.

 

Overall score: 7.5 out of 10

Building VS. Buying: Why a custom PC may be right for you!

Technology has transitioned to a period where everybody needs to have a computer, regardless of its use. Entertainment, education, and simple time-wasting are only some of the benefits of owning a PC. At some point or another, you’ve browsed any number of sites looking for a PC to fulfill a certain need. Whether you need a powerhouse gaming rig, or a simple pre-built PC to meet basic study and research needs, you’ve inevitably researched how to get the biggest bang for your buck. Cost is a big factor in buying a PC, but have you ever taken a look at exactly what’s needed to build your own machine? The benefits range from experience, knowledge, and even a bit of financial relief, though less than years past.

Recently I built my own PC in an effort to refamiliarize myself with the components of a machine. I’d built PC’s in the past using an array of components, but it had been years since I took on the task. As technology gets better, the overall scope of it takes on a new shape. Smaller, faster, cheaper, and more intricate designs have emerged that allow consumers to design and build their own PC exactly to a particular set of specifications. For this project there was no particular build model; in an effort to combine power, price, and ease of creation, components were selected that best exemplified each of those tenets. This won’t explain exactly what you need to do to install every component, as there are countless guides strewn about the web. Instead, this is a guide for what to look for when trying to create your own PC, and where to add some additional power in just the right places.

Processor – AMD A8-5600K APU – $108.99 – This 3.6GHz, quad-core processor is enough power to run the software you want, but isn’t expensive and doesn’t present unnecessary implementations. The Intel core i7 is popular right now, but with hyperthreading going unused by every game on the market, shelling out for the extra power that would only really get used for video editing wasn’t cost-effective. Instead, the AMD option is affordable and allows for a reasonably priced motherboard. Additionally, this APU combines the CPU and GPU, meaning if you’re not doing any gaming, you could probably get away without the video card discussed later.

Motherboard – ASROCK (FM2A75 Pro4 FM2 AMD A75 ATX AMD Motherboard) – $64.99 – The main reason for this selection is price, but surprisingly the features delivered make this a perfect choice for the build we have. With up to 32GB dual channel supported memory, two USB 2.0 and six USB 3.0, HDMI and optical ports, ASROCK provides plenty of options and allows room for expansion as technology progresses.

RAM – Kingston HyperX blu: red – 16GB (2x8GB) – $119.38 – With so many choices for memory, getting a high power, brand name product at a reasonable cost is difficult. Kingston provides a magnificent option with the HyperX blu line, but delivers it at a cost that won’t empty your wallet. Options include single sticks up to 8GB and kits ranging from 4GB to 16GB. The latter might seem like overkill for the machine we’re building and, frankly, for most machines right now. Inserting 16GB allows for the user to disregard upgrading RAM as other components are improved, at least for a little while.

Power Supply – Rosewill Capstone 750w – $114.99 – You won’t need 750w of power from the start, but it’s always a good idea to have too much rather than too little. With the amount of USB ports and the storage we’re using with this build (more on that shortly), ensuring you have proper power being delivered is key. Too little and you may end up with hardware that doesn’t act as expected, or worse, gets damaged.

Video card – NVIDIA Geforce GTX 660 Ti – $269.99-$289.99 – The GeForce GTX 660 Ti was selected primarily for its use in gaming. NVIDIA’s PhysX act similarly to EA’s Frostbite engine, allowing true-to-life physics for destructible environments. Working wonderfully in games like Borderlands 2 and the upcoming Metro: Last Light, gamers are given an experience unmatched. Additionally, this card supports up to four simultaneous monitors. Granted, most of use will never use four monitors at once, but having the option is nice.

Internal Storage

Storage has evolved from a luxury to a requirement. We, as consumers, have moved into a digital age, consuming our movies, television, and music from download or streaming services that weren’t available even five years ago. Because of that simple fact, as we build we need to make sacrifices on what is deemed necessity versus what is simply “nice to have”. Optical drives have moved into that category; without the constant need to “insert disk” for installation, specifically with Netflix for movies and Steam for PC gaming, the optical drive has become nearly obsolete. If you have a need for an optical drive, external options are available. With the motherboard and power supply already primed for multiple external hardware options, you’re more than able to use one. For this build though, no optical drive is selected.

SSD – Kingston HyperX 120gb – $117.99 – Solid-state drives are expensive, considering the storage, but used as a boot disk or to play your most-used games, SSD offers unrivaled speed. Hard-booting in less than 30 seconds, Kingston’s HyperX SSD allows users to begin whatever project they need with little delay. Transfer rates up to 6GB/s and more reliability over basic storage is also a plus, but the speed is what makes the SSD as touted as it is.

HDD 1 – Western Digital Velociraptor 1TB – $229.99 – High-performance storage is the theme here, and the Velociraptor delivers. It’s got a 64MB cache, high capacity, and one of the highest reliability ratings for a high-capacity SATA drive, meaning the risk of data loss is minimal. The 1TB capacity is also great for making this your primary drive for applications and lesser-used games.

HDD 2 – Seagate Barracuda 3TB – $132.58 – As stated, the purpose of this machine is to consume all entertainment digitally. Obviously movies, music and games take up a lot of space. Seagate delivers 3TB of storage with their Barracuda model and does so with high-density read/write through their Acutrac technology. Additionally, Seagate’s free software allows Windows to recognize drives beyond 2TB, giving you a drive that will hold massive amounts of information, read it quickly, and deliver it to you in some of the fastest ways possible.

External Hardware

Keyboard – SteelSeries Merc Stealth – $89.99 – GAMING! That’s the only reason you’d purchase this keyboard, but it’s a damned good reason. Red, blue, or red background illumination, rubberized keys, and pre-made controls for over 150 games means this is ideal for whatever title you’re currently playing. With the custom engineered “gaming terrain” on the left of the keyboard, all of the commands you need are easily accessible, specifically when playing MMO’s.

Mouse – Mad Catz MMO7 White – $129.99 – You’ve already read about all the features this mouse offers, so despite the cost, this is best option for those spending their time in a fantasy world. Weighted perfectly and designed to fit your hand comfortably, the MMO7 customization compliments the keyboard to allow for an unrivaled experience. The “White” option of the mouse also compliments the case, presenting a clean motif.

Monitor – Samsung 27 Class LED – $549.99 – When it comes to viewing your digital content, obviously you want the best experience possible. For monitors, nothing beats the Samsung 27 Class LED monitor, though you will certainly pay for that experience. With Wi-Fi, hundreds of apps, and a large, hi-res 27” picture, you will not find a better monitor. If you’re looking for something smaller or, perhaps something more affordable, there are certainly other options. Monitors with smaller screens and less features are available, but you will be sacrificing your overall experience.

Case – Raidmax Agusta – $109.99 – With a look like Megatron from the Transformers series, RAIDMAX delivers far more than just a pretty package. Accessing the insides of the system is made far easier when all HDD’s are located at the bottom, resting in hot-swap channels. With five fans working to move air through the case, each of them adjustable in both speed and amount of light emitted, the airflow is wonderful and the dust inside is kept to a minimum. Though a bit bulky, the overall look more than makes this a must-have PC case.

OS – Windows 7 Home Premium- $95.05 – Although Windows 8 is the latest operating system to release, its functionality suffers for those users who don’t own a touch screen monitor. We’ve grown accustomed to Windows looking and operating in a certain way, and until Microsoft delivers a better user experience, it’s hard to promote Windows 8. Therefore, Windows 7 Home Premium is the answer, delivering a useful interface at an affordable price. Due to the age of Windows 7, the cost of the OS is significantly less than it was years ago, making it the ideal choice to round out your self-made PC experience.

Total Cost: $2,133.91

When purchasing pre-made, comparable systems using the components described above would cost you from $2,400.00 to $2,700.00, depending on manufacturer and other concessions you may make during hardware selection. Beyond saving a little scratch, the experience of building your own PC, along with bragging rights of course, will be the highlight of the entire ordeal. Saving a few hundred dollars is nice, but there are far better ways to build a gaming PC on a budget — this experience will require particular patience, but in the end you’ll end up with hardware primed for digital entertainment, whether that’s movie, television, music or gaming. Keeping in mind that the monitor itself is nearly 25% of the total cost, there are other ways to save a dollar here or there, but it may affect your end-user experience.

Disclaimer: With the exception of the motherboard, each item was provided by the manufacturer for the purposes of this article. All prices listed from Amazon.com as of April 23, 2013.

Review – HP Pavilion 23xi Monitor (C3Z94AA)

Seen, but not heard

Our digital world has turned our PC’s into our primary source of entertainment. No longer are we tied to televisions, with the massive success of Netflix, Hulu, Flixster or whatever other portal you use to consume video, there is one thing we have in common: we’re staring at our monitors longer than ever before. It only makes sense then, that something we spend so much time with should be high quality. The problem, of course, is cost. Surprisingly, there is an option that melds high definition video with affordability. The HP Pavilion 23xi LED backlit monitor is that option; taking advantage of impressive contrast and brilliant resolution, HP delivers an impressive option that doesn’t break the bank.

The most important aspect of any monitor is the the projected image, i.e. “how it looks.” For those spending $229.99 on a monitor, the MSRP of the HP Pavilion 23xi, there’s an expectation of beautiful, vivid images being displayed. The contrast ratio is 10,000,000:1 — that’s ten million to one. The result is crisp, clean looking blacks, important as an offset to allow the coloring to be as bright as can be. Using ‘in-plane switching, or IPS, the monitor presents fast response times and maintains it’s picture when viewed at an angle. Typically, LCD monitors allow an angle of view around 44 degrees, with the 23xi the angle of view is increased to 178 degrees horizontally and vertically. Resolution is also important, and the 1920×1080 delivered here is common for most HD monitors. While it doesn’t present any new or interesting resolution options, what’s presented is average for the industry. Adjustable controls are also available, allowing users to modify brightness, color, contrast, and a slew of other options to create a precise, custom experience detailed specifically for the user.

Another important aspect is how you intend on using the monitor. Unfortunately, the number of inputs available on the monitor is limited, allowing VGA, DVI-D, HDMI, and HDCP support. Without additional HDMI ports, fastly becoming commonplace for HD transmission, users will have to connect and reconnect cables if they choose to use multiple devices on the monitor. It’s a shame too, because the picture is brilliant enough that attaching a cable box or game console to it will certainly enhance your experience, but you’ll have to weigh the nuisance of constant cable-swapping versus your own visual experience.

An oft-ignored detail when shopping for monitors is the engineering design, meaning you may get your purchase home only to find that it’s too big for the space you selected for it. With a 23” diagonal screen, you’ll be surprised to hear that the viewable portion extends nearly to the edges in each direction, reducing the “dead space” that typically takes up extra room on your desk. While it measures nearly 16” tall and 23.5” wide, the overall weight is astounding at less than eight pounds. So if you decide to use the monitor for multiple devices, know that it will be a pain to constantly swap cables, but it won’t be a physical pain.

The 23” diagonal screen, HD picture and bright colors make this monitor an easy choice when shopping for quality. Low-power use (even when not in sleep mode) and “arsenic free” glass allows HP to present a greener alternative to most monitors. The biggest drawback is the absence of speakers, forcing users to rely on their own resources to satisfy their audio needs. Granted, the inclusion of speakers would weight, cost and power consumption, but it creates an issue for consumers looking for that “one-stop shop”. Despite that, the picture is magnificent and will impress you from the moment it’s installed.

For more information, visit HP here.

Review – Army of Two: Devil's Cartel

The One Night Stand of Videogames

In the continued events of the Army of Two franchise, many fans will often ask simply, “Why are we seeing sequels to this game?” Without a massive following nor sales numbers to back it up, the general gaming population is left at a loss as to why this franchise lives on. Despite a shallow storyline and solid, but basic shooting mechanics there’s really only one justification: charm. In a world where gamers clamor for deep story and intricate combat scenarios, Army of Two: Devil’s Cartel delivers narration to rival some of the great, cheesy action movies from the 80’s. Unfortunately, the story seems to take itself serious most of the time, which causes it to suffer. Tip-toeing around the fourth wall, the game has gratuitous explosions, gruesome violence and drowns players in bromance between Alpha and Bravo, but the third title in the series fails, again, to ascend to greatness.

Tactical Worldwide Operations — the TWO in Army of Two — plants new recruits, Alpha and Bravo, in the midst of a Mexican drug cartel’s territory in order to escort a high-value target through it safely. During the mission, surprising only the characters in the game, the group is attacked on the street, igniting the premise for the rest of the game — yes, there is story beyond dashing cover to cover and shooting bad guys. It’s at that moment that the story spins off into a strange mixture of intrigue and apathy, providing a small carrot-on-a-stick to the player in order to justify why Alpha and Bravo should continue on in the face of countless adversaries. It’s that precise challenge that adds personality to the entire TWO organization though, hiring only the baddest of the bad, the toughest of the tough, each with an attitude that rivals that of a stereotypical fraternity.

To match the wit, sometimes juvenile and sometimes genuinely funny, a unique weapon and character customization option is presented to allow players to create a character that matches their own tastes. Weapons from assault rifles and shotguns to LMGs or sniper rifles each have coloring options and can hold a number of attachments that provide different benefits or penalties. In addition, the tell-tale masks of the TWO organization can be modified to look like one of the dozens of choices available; not high on the pre-made options, players can opt to create their own and show off their own design skills.

Like the story, the gameplay itself is mediocre and relies on players dashing from cover to cover in order to defend from the constant storm of bullets that greet you at every turn. Should you get antsy or if your cover is destroyed — the game runs on the Frostbite engine, the same used in the latest Battlefield titles — and you’re peppered with bullets, it’s not the end. Your partner will run out, against all odds, to save the day and return you to the battle. The height of being a member of TWO though, is the ability to just say, “to hell with it,” and become a badass. If you happen to dispatch a number of enemies in particularly varying ways, melee, firearms, or environmental explosions, your Overkill Meter fills up and, much like previous games, grants the ability to become invulnerable for a short period. During your state of God-like power, bullets are endless and guns don’t need to be reloaded, ensuring that anybody silly enough to get caught in your crosshairs, is quickly removed from them.

Army of Two: Devil’s Cartel  isn’t going to win game of the year, and anybody playing can see this game for what it is: a good time and nothing more. AoT:DC isn’t a game that you marry, it’s not a game that you bring home to meet your parents. It’s a one-night stand. It’s a game you play through, having some meaningless fun, and then discard in the pile and move on. It’s not going to challenge you intellectually, but it might cause some shy embarrassment if you catch eyes with the friend who helped you tag-team the cooperative mission. Regardless, it’s silly fun and will have you rolling your eyes — in a good way — during most scenes.

Overall score – 6.5 out of 10

 

A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes

Magic the Gathering 2014 Duels of the Planeswalkers Preview

PAX East 2013 Round-up!

One of the most difficult things to do in gaming is to commit to an annual release and entice players to come back year after year. Very few franchises have the courage to attempt it, with fewer reaching success, which is why upon seeing Magic the Gathering 2014 Duels of the Planeswalkers at PAX East, fans of the series were pleasantly surprised. Building on the the years past, the team at Wizards of the Coast has taken an active approach to implement engaging story and has, for the first time, made a specific Planeswalker the focal point of the overarching story.

Chandra Nalaar, the redhead with attitude and complete control of fire, is taking center stage with  campaign spanning online and offline. Despite the aforementioned difficulties that Magic the Gathering inherently presents, specifically the danger of redundant gameplay, the game will introduce ten brand new decks, including cards from the Magic 2014 Core Set, to play with. In addition to the new cards, 25 new encounters and puzzle challenges and a brand new game mode await those wanting to test their mettle against the AI.

With three years of digital releases under their belt, the team bringing Magic the Gathering will continue to support Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network, PC (Steam), and iPad. This year though, much to the delight of fans, the game will release on Android devices. As one of the most popular card games available today, Magic the Gathering has over 12 million players worldwide and delivers more than 12,000 individual cards for gameplay. Though previous releases have appealed mainly to fans of the series, the integration of a new story, new game modes and appearing on new devices is sure to drive fans both old and new to see just what Magic the Gathering 2014 Duels of the Planeswalkers is all about.

You can view the trailer by clicking here.

 

 

 

Review – Bioshock Infinite

Get the girl, wipe away the debt.

It only happens a few times every generation of gaming, a title is delivered that causes the masses to retreat into themselves and think about an experience they just had. It’s even rarer that it happens in the first-person shooting genre, one typically reserved for Michael Bay-like story lines where explosions are more important than narrative. In 2007, Bioshock delivered such an experience and was lauded as perhaps one of the greatest games of all time. Here, nearly six years later, the team at Irrational games has done it again with the third installment in their series, Bioshock Infinite.

em>Infinite focuses on Booker Dewitt, a survivor of the Battle of Wounded Knee, who is set off with the simple orders, “Bring us the girl and wipe away your debt.” Dewitt is facing severe gambling debt, so it’s his intent to work with a couple of mysterious characters who have tasked him with obtaining “Elizabeth” from aboard the Columbia, a city-in-the-sky which vanished when the residents lost faith in America. The story’s setting, with the exception of the introduction, takes place entirely above the clouds within Columbia. Using a grappling-hook-like device, players will sail between floating islands on a custom-built monorail device. With a setting that has a constant inherent danger of falling, players might expect to routinely meet their maker with sudden slips and tumbles. Due to a tight control scheme and an environment created specifically for large groups of people, the truth is that the blame of any falls lie squarely on the player’s shoulders. In addition to the unique physical setting, the year Bioshock Infinite takes place is 1912, which removes any attachment the player may have to a specific time period. Sci-Fi and space allow players to “imagine if,” where a period from a century ago blends a magical amalgamation of “remember when…” with “imagine if…”

The sci-fi element is still there though, with players progressing through the story collecting Vigors, this installments version of Plasmids. Vigors grant powers to shoot lightning or balls of fire, but also introduce new, interesting mechanics. Throwing a murder of crows at an enemy is a wonderful way to distract them, or casting Bucking Bronco will toss them in the air, removing them from the cover that they so often hide behind. A wide selection of armaments is also available, ranging from simple pistols and rifles, to unique weapons like mortars and handheld turrets. By looting bodies and containers, DeWitt will find currency used to upgrade his Vigors and the weapons found throughout Columbia.

Booker DeWitt’s trek to find Elizabeth is simple, as he’s rocketed to Columbia from a discreet lighthouse in Maine. Once finding her though, the story gets far more interesting and difficult to progress through. Her keeper, a strange bird-like robot named Songbird, flies into a rage at the thought of losing his ward, but Elizabeth holds the power to open “tears,” that is, openings in the fabric of reality. Using these tears, Elizabeth will help make particular tactical choices available to DeWitt, allowing the use of turrets, bringing in additional cover to hide behind, or creating a place you can attach your skyhook and attack from above, either through melee or with your sidearm.

Elizabeth’s soft voice, strong demeanor and near-constant attachment throughout the game help present a well-crafted relationship that causes DeWitt and the player to both grow to care for her well-being. She’s useful during combat, both finding ammo and salts (the equivalent of mana, used for your Vigor), but she’s got such a strong personality that players never really feel as if she’s helpless, nor are you trying to be her saving grace. In fact, DeWitt’s motivations are completely selfish. As the story trolleys through at a pace set by the player, additional content can be found that helps give backstory to the surroundings and the situations certain key people have created. Well-hidden recordings give first-person testimonials and information that isn’t made readily available to players briskly moving through the game, but is also cause for some detriment. While the story is well narrated and explained, certain audio logs give tremendous insight that might be key in understanding Columbia fully. Missing them, which can be common, will result in story holes or questions remaining as the game winds down.

A fantastic shooter with detailed and impressive level design, Bioshock Infinite will reach its apex during the last 30 minutes when all plot hooks are revealed and players are rewarded with unique story elements that will be discussed for years to come. Not shying away from blatant racism or religious zealotry, the team at Irrational Games has embraced conflict, both physical and mental, to create a world very believable for the period. Protagonist Booker DeWitt is a flawed hero, while Elizabeth is clearly a victim who refuses to be seen as one. With some gun battles playing out longer than they should and action that can become repetitive, the influx of various enemies with particular tactics helps remove most of the tedious combat. The story is where the game shines through and players setting foot on Columbia should take a moment to reflect at the beauty of the wonderful city. Then be ready to tear it apart.

Overall score: 8.5 out of 10

PAX East Round-up: MOGA Pro Controller

There seems to be a dividing line between console gaming and mobile gaming and it’s one that MOGA is trying hard to blur. With processors and memory getting faster and smaller, it’s only a matter of time before we’re holding the equivalent of an Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 in the palm of our hand. The line is drawn because most gamers who enjoy titles like Madden or Battlefield don’t find much appeal when they’re required to touch and swipe on a screen. Additionally, the feedback of a controller is a wonderful feeling, one that is comfortable to us all. With the release of the MOGA controller and the upcoming MOGA Pro (available later this month), no longer will gamers feel a sense of unease when gaming on their phone or tablet. In fact, as more games become available, some gamers may start looking forward to it.

The original MOGA is a tiny, handheld device that connects to your phone or tablet via bluetooth and will hold your phone in its adjustable arm — tablets are large enough that you don’t need them attached, nor would you want them to be. Using the MOGA Pivot App (a free download), a list of games is available which are compatible with the device. Speaking with the developers, College News was told, “In the beginning we were reaching out to developers to integrate them with the MOGA Pocket. Since then, we’ve had a large number of developers reaching out to us to make the games [compatible].”

At PAX East 2013, MOGA unveiled its newest product, the MOGA Pro. Shaped in a more familiar controller-like design, the Pro offers all the same benefits of the MOGA Pocket, but engineered in a way that feels more controller-like. With dual, raised thumbsticks, four face buttons and triggers, the controller is designed specifically to mimic the Xbox 360, arguably the most popular gaming controller available. The USB cable helps keep the rechargeable battery at full power and, while it still fits your phone, a tablet stand is included to prop your favorite Android tablet up for playing.

Often during my test, PAX East attendees would walk by wondering what game I was playing and on and for which console. Using an MHL cable to transfer the video from the tablet to the HDTV, people were often shocked to see I was playing a game on a tablet, using a bluetooth controller, and having an experience similar to one had in the comfort of their own home. That’s a testament to the design and the games available for on the MOGA Pivot App. With its unique design, the seamless integration and the surprising number of games available for it, the MOGA Pro Controller was a surprise. Of all the hardware seen at PAX East 2013, the MOGA Pro is easily the hardware of the show.

The MOGA Pro releases this month and will retail for $49.99.

Review – MLB 13 The Show

The Reigning MVP

When you’re game is already the best available on the market, it’s hard to implement changes that make it better. The risk is that if you make changes that markedly change the gameplay, you run the risk of alienating your fans; if you don’t make enough changes, those same fans complain that the game may be a simple “cut and paste” of the last iteration. Developer Sony (San Diego) has opted for the latter, and though they’ve made over 50 changes to the game, none are notable enough to sell the game based on changes. That being said, MLB 13 the Show still makes a case as the premier baseball simulation on consoles.

Largely unchanged, the gameplay is still the heavyweight champion of baseball simulations. It’s the options that win it the title, really. Players who enjoy using the thumbsticks to pitch, hit, and field will be rewarded with tight, timing-based controls that are effective, but difficult to master. Simplifying the controls by swapping to timed button presses returns, making the game far easier and giving it a retro-throwback. It’s that customization that extends into other game modes too, creating an experience precisely tailored to whatever it is you prefer.

Despite the magnificent gameplay, there are some visual issues that plague the game during very inopportune time. During some gameplay sessions a small graphical hitch will occur precisely at the moment a pitcher finishes his delivery, resulting in a distraction that draws your eyes from the intended path of the ball. In a game that relies on timing and momentum in order to accomplish even the most minor action, an interruption will destroy your experience. Even one as tiny as a hitch that lasts a millisecond. Granted, powering down the Playstation 3 console and restarting will usually remove the issue, but it’s an issue nonetheless.

The first notable addition is ‘The Postseason,’ a 10-team game mode that allows players to play through the postseason in a battle for the World Series Trophy. For those living in a dorm, fraternity or sorority (yes, seriously), each team can be controlled by an actual person, leading to a fully-customizable, fully-competitive playoff run for one lucky player. ‘The Show Live’ has also been created to give a true-to-life feeling for those who expect a complete simulation from their baseball title. Using MLB.com, the game draws roster changes right down lineups specific to particular days and matchups. Road to the Show, Franchise, Season, Diamond Dynasty, and other modes return, each with minor changes to help streamline or deliver minor changes that help the flow of the game as a whole, but nothing is groundbreaking nor really notable.

Despite limited noteworthy additions, MLB 13 The Show still reigns as the baseball videogame king. Beautiful animations and a variety of modes have riddled the franchise since the beginning; this installment is no different. For players who look forward to the annual baseball release, this year is as magnificent as the last. Those looking to simply get back into America’s past time might be better off saving a few bucks and buying last year’s installment. Whatever your decision, Sony San Diego’s competitors have a lot of ground to make up.

Overall score: 8 out of 10