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Coming Soon: Far Cry 4

Coming Soon: Far Cry 4

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Oh yes, November is going to be very busy. I’m going to do my best to get to all of the big games. If I can pull it off, I hope it’ll be as fun for you to read as it will be for me to play. I’ve got Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Dragon Age: Inquisition, and finally Far Cry 4. I’m probably going to get to them in that order, too. I never actually played Far Cry 3. I’ve heard lots of good stuff about it, and I’ve watched others play it. It looks like a romp, and I hope to get around to it someday. But since I never actually got around to playing it, I suppose I’m coming into this experience relatively fresh. I mean, I’m familiar with some things from that game, including the infamous primary villain, but I’m not going to be able to gauge how it lives up to its predecessor. Far Cry 4 takes place in a fictional Himalayan kingdom called Kyrat. You play Ajay Ghale (I’ve heard varying reports on how that’s pronounced), the son of expatriates who has returned to Kyrat to honor his dead mother’s desire to be disposed of in her home country. I don’t really know much else about the story. I want to go in as a true neophyte. If I’m free of series prejudice, so I’ll try to go in without hype prejudice as well. I did get some idea of what the villain is about. Maybe this is Far Cry’s signature hype method, showing off the colorful psychopaths that oppose their straight man heroes. My familiarity with Far Cry 3 is admittedly marginal, and even I’ve heard Vaas’ “definition of insanity” speech. Similarly, I’m not sure of the plot of the game, yet I’ve seen the pink-clad, blonde villain voiced by Troy Baker. Hopefully this Pagan Min is going to be the show-stealer Ubisoft seems to think he’ll be, because at this point I can’t expect any less. Even if the story turns out to be a complete wash, the fast-paced gameplay might make up for it. I’ve seen Ajay fire an automatic crossbow, leap dramatically from car to car, and ride an elephant into an enemy outpost. The roaming wildlife also includes rhinos, leopards, and even honey badgers. That’s going to be a treat. Also I don’t care so much about how a game looks, but I do like the scenery on display in this one. The Himalayan Mountains look lovely and verdant, if a bit treacherous. So Far Cry 4 looks like it’s going to be a barrel of fun. At least, I hope that’s what they were going for. I hope the devs aren’t going for a sober, topical look at small-scale tyrannical regimes. If you give me the ability to ride a rampaging elephant around, I will not be receptive to subtle storytelling.

Coming Soon: Assassin's Creed: Unity

Coming Soon: Assassin's Creed: Unity

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I’m a big Assassin’s Creed fan, and, as with all things I enjoy, I've been very patient with this series. But I’m starting to get a little frustrated.

Should You Buy? Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments

Should You Buy? Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments

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Sometimes, such as with the Metal Gear franchise, I’m the newcomer at a disadvantage who has to tread lightly lest I criticize something that fans love. Other times, as with Frogwares’ Sherlock Holmes series, I’m in the fan position. I've been playing the Holmes games since Mystery of the Mummy and I've been a Holmesian since childhood. I give Crimes and Punishments my seal of approval, with some reservations. I think they've captured Holmes almost perfectly. He’s extremely intelligent and witty, a gentleman always with the occasional bit of sarcasm; in other words, a great representation of the Holmes I remember (still no Jeremy Brett, but no one is). It’s a bit jarring to see inside the head of Holmes, a peek behind the veil almost. I recall Holmes himself saying that, were Watson able to follow the train of deduction as Holmes does, he’d find the whole thing rather prosaic. I like the new take on the formula, and being able to follow the deduction doesn't make Holmes seem any less genius. The game is by far the most graphically advanced in the series, though I still had the occasional problem with texture pop-in. There were a few glitches, such as icons in the mini-games hovering in the air after the games were finished and layered over the environment in my periphery. But other than that, the sumptuous environments were a treat to explore, and I frequently imitated Holmes’ tendency to go over every inch of the scene. Far be it for me to criticize any game for its puzzles, but I feel there are a number of them which are just busy work and are not based in cleverness or solving ability at all. One involves using a pencil to reveal the word impressions under a torn-out page in a notebook, and I almost gave myself carpal tunnel trying to run that tiny stub over the page. I have one primary complaint. Everything else can be put down to nitpicking, but one thing just broke the game for me: The cases are inconsistent and just plain not mysterious. The best of them, by far, is “Blood Baths,” which involves a classic “locked-door” murder in a Roman bath as well as London’s origins as a Roman colony, and it could have easily been a full game onto itself. It’s followed by a straight adaptation of “The Adventure of the Abbey Grange,” the solution of which you know already if you've read the story. That one would have been better as the first case; the story’s familiarity will be comforting to fans, while players become familiar with the mechanics via the simple forensics and moral conundrum at the end. In summary, I like Crimes and Punishments, even if I don’t find it as fulfilling as Nemesis or Jack the Ripper. It’s a good game, if not precisely a good mystery, and I’m glad I played it. However, if you have a low tolerance for adventure game pacing or puzzle minigames, C&P won’t change your mind.

Who Is the Wraith in Shadow of Mordor, and Why Is He So Awesome?

Who Is the Wraith in Shadow of Mordor, and Why Is He So Awesome?

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I've never read any of J. R. R. Tolkien’s extended Middle-earth writings. When I was younger, someone who had read The Silmarillion said “It’s not so bad once you get past the first hundred pages,” which didn't do much to sell it for me. Okay, okay that’s my self-defense by way of philistine grousing. I’m done now. Still, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor does do an admirable job of convincing me to read the books. The game is relatively clear where it falls on the timeline of the Ring saga. And it contains certain connections to Middle-earth history that are intriguing and invite me to learn more about the series’ complex and, up to this point, impenetrable history. Okay, here come the *SPOILERS*: You know that Wraith I mentioned in the review and wasn't able to name? That’s because the revelation of his identity about a quarter of the way into the game is the connection to the rest of Tolkien’s canon. He is the spirit of Celebrimbor, the elven smith who made the Rings of Power at the request of Sauron in disguise. The Rings of Power are those rings mentioned in the first few minutes of the Fellowship film, for my fellow Philistines – the ones which the One Ring is supposedly capable of controlling, though I don’t really remember anything else. That moment, when I discovered who Celebrimbor was and his part in the greater LotR saga, gave me pause. Speaking as someone who never made it far enough to understand the history of the Rings of Power, finding out that the Wraith was the person who made them left me curious. The main trilogy doesn't bother to go into detail about the Rings. Even the Peter Jackson films are strangely lean on information about what they actually do. It made me think, “You know, the question of where this super-jewelry came from had been curiously deflected up to this point. Now I must know more.” Making Celebrimbor, essentially the Archduke Ferdinand of Middle-earth, the deuteragonist of Shadow of Mordor is an excellent move which will placate series’ fans without alienating the uninitiated. He is not a central character with a set backstory and a depiction that is burned into the collective imagination, like Bilbo or Aragorn. I think the part about his wife and child being slain is new, but that serves as an easy way to tie him to Talion’s more conventional protag motivations. There has to be a reason for the two to put up with each other, given how different they are. Whatever judgments I made about the game itself, it’s clear to me that it was made by people who truly enjoy the source material. Digging up a character who is so important to the overall story of the saga and yet utterly unknown to anyone who hasn’t read the more obscure writings gives the game a bona fide authenticity it might otherwise lack. So good job, Monolith. You got this part right.

Coming Soon: Dragon Age: Inquisition

Coming Soon: Dragon Age: Inquisition

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Like everything else Bioware has made in the last few years, the Dragon Age series is a pretty mixed bag. Dragon Age: Origins was a fantasy RPG I enjoyed so much that I’m not sure I can adequately convey it. Dragon Age 2…not so much. But we’ll get to that. Dragon Age: Inquisition is (presumably) the final entry, and it’s coming out next month. I know there are a lot of other things coming out that I must preview and review. The reason I’m singling out DA:I is because I suspect Dragon Age: Keep will soon be available. Keep will allow us to import our game decisions to Inquisition, ensuring the world we made in the previous games will be the one we enter now. So, in the spirit of Keep, here’s a quick review of our two previous entries. What should Inquisition take from both? Dragon Age: Origins was a classic fantasy RPG with a story that was a slightly more whimsical and self-aware version of Game of Thrones. To this day, it remains one of my best experiences with roleplaying, second perhaps only to Mass Effect. The gameplay, story, and overall experience worked for me, though I can understand if the game’s wordiness wore thin for some. I give it a solid recommendation even five years later. However, I can’t really give the same praise to Dragon Age 2. Better critics than I have taken this game apart and explained how it wasn’t as good as its predecessor. So I’ll confine myself to saying this: I liked the depiction of the world after the averted apocalypse and the expansive look at the troubled land of Thedas that Origins only hinted at. However, the multitudinous problems with the gameplay and the lack of depth to pseudo-Shepard protagonist Hawke kept me from really getting into it. The only thing they really need to get right is the companions. The party from Origins was a well-written bunch, each character coming with a set of flaws and hang-ups they were all too conscious of. I never warmed to the posse from 2 mostly because they didn’t seem terribly self-aware, but I liked Varric and Isabella for their sense of humor. I’m avoiding pre-release info if I can, because forming your own relationship with your party is part of the DA experience. I’ll be happy if the new Dragon Age takes the story pacing from Origins, if nothing else. What I loved most about that game was the sense that you are moving inexorably towards an endgame that would make every other battle look like a scuffle. They pulled no punches; you were pitted against a literal tainted god in the form of a dragon. I want to do that again, albeit in a different way if possible. I also want it to take Dragon Age 2’s sense of moral ambiguity and backstory depth. Make it an epic I’ll be proud to have spent my time on, and I’ll be happy!

Should You Buy? Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

Should You Buy? Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

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Okay, I’ve admitted to not being a Tolkien fan. I’ve never made it all the way through his big three, let alone The Silmarillion. I probably wouldn’t have given Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor a second glance if I didn’t have to. But here a game has done the near-impossible: It made me want to read the books.

Nancy Drew: Labyrinth of Lies

Nancy Drew: Labyrinth of Lies

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Here we are again, in the shoes of everyone’s favorite girl sleuth, and I’m so happy to be back! The story this time around is one of the better ones I’ve seen recently. A small museum in Greece is preparing to open a new exhibit alongside the premiere of a new play at their revamped amphitheater.

Going Casual: The Sims 4

Going Casual: The Sims 4

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I’m not old enough to remember the reactions to The Sims, but someone had to have thought it was a joke at first. A game about life? Human life? Who on Earth would buy that when you can just live your own human life? But it’s a simple, brilliant premise for one reason: You’re not playing a human, you’re playing a god.   I only played the Create-A-Sim demo for Sims 4 because I’m not going to take that expensive, Origin-exclusive bullet if I don’t have to. I apologize, but in my defense, I don’t think I would have played Sims 4 for even half a minute outside of a review, and I’d like to hang on to those sixty dollars. The November release glut is getting closer.   Kind of a funny thing: I never play any Sims game for very long. I’m not really interested in playing an omnipotent figure unless the creatures I’m tending are zoo animals. But whenever I go through the character creator, I’ve always created the same family, if only because coming up with a new one would take slightly longer.   Over time, I’ve become attached to them. The two are Keegan and Kimberly Kane, who feel like the only sane, happy Sims in whatever demented neighborhood I put them in. I project heavily onto them, though even that has not stopped me from abandoning them the instant I inevitably got bored with the game.   I have a pretty clear idea of what these two look like. And, thanks to the huge wardrobe at the disposal of the Sims in the previous games, I’ve been able to give them the particular style that fits them. Not so with Sims 4. I’m choosing to take the demo as a microcosm of the game in general, which is probably unfair of me, but I had a number of frustrations with it that would keep me from buying the game even if I were a regular customer.   First of all, the way to adjust your Sim’s body is to click and drag a particular body part until it either shrinks in or balloons out. While this sounds simple, I got frustrated with it very easily. The drag only seems to work in a very particular direction, which means Keegan got eyeballs almost as far out as his ears when I tried to make them bigger. Also, the wardrobe initially available is paltry. I went through the handful of everyday dresses muttering to myself, “Kimberly would never wear any of these.”   So that’s my problem with Sims 4, or at least the demo I played. While supposedly upgraded from Sims 3, it’s actually quite unintuitive. While supposedly bigger and better, the choices are actually quite limited. I’m not a veteran Simmer, but I wonder if veteran Simmers would be as dissatisfied with Sims 4 character creation as I was.

Minecraft, Twitch and Big Money: A Buyer's Guide

Minecraft, Twitch and Big Money: A Buyer's Guide

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It’s the month of acquisitions and big money… very, very big money! Here are the two big ones that affect the larger gaming community, and how they can be good things.

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