The nostalgia hits like a ton of bricks when you remember Halo 2 was released just under ten years ago. That’s right, an entire decade. Green Day’s American Idiot album was in every discman, Napoleon Dynamite and Shaun of the Dead were on the big screen, and the domain name The Facebook had only just been established. But in the gaming community, there was only the highly anticipate Game of the Year winning Halo 2. The latter sold 2.4 million copies and made over $125 million in the first 24 hours of its release. Fuck.
Now, a decade of decadence later, Halo fans worldwide are gearing up to do it all over again, this time for the release of Halo: The Master Chief Collection this November. For the incredibly (and surprisingly for that matter) reasonable price of $59.99 you get Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, Halo 2: Anniversary, Halo 3, Halo 4, along with the digital feature Halo: Nightfall and the Halo 5: Guardians gameplay beta. You can even, through the new Master Menu, play across all games 1-4 seamlessly. Damn that’s sweet.
I’ll start with the last two, being that they are both incredibly new and extremely exciting. So, for starters, Halo: Nightfall. Written by Paul Scheuring, the creator of the television series Prison Break and produced by Ridley Scott of the acclaimed Alien franchise among other brilliant works; the live-action feature aims to shed light on non-Master Chief events that take place between Halo 4 and Halo 5: Guardians. Check out the teaser trailer and the official summary and additional information.
Onto the gameplay beta for Halo 5: Guardians. Through the collection, players will be able to play a small segment of gameplay from December 29, 2014 to January 18, 2015. This content will feature familiar weapons, new armor abilities, and two maps, all based around basic 4 vs. 4 arena gameplay. Once again, check out the beta gameplay trailer and see the action for yourself.
Now, let’s get to the meat of this discussion, the main reason I’m writing: Halo 2: Anniversary. Games 1, 3, and 4 are no different than what is out at the moment so I’ll just pass over those. But with the remake of arguably the best of the lot, there is plenty to talk about.
I’m sure every last one of us remembers how many fantastic moments there were to be had throughout Halo 2.To this day my good friends and I still get together when we can and system link our Xbox’s for an intense party of pure UNSC savagery. The fondest memories I have are of when that pair of Hunters burst through the doors and into the city streets during the fourth mission, or my first time flying about in the sixth mission. But there was still the incredibly smooth multiplayer gameplay (which is going to be exactly as it was ten years ago…*drool*), the super bounces, the dual Needler, and a lengthy campaign with incredible maps abound to boot. Okay, now imagine all that with pristine visuals and enhanced sound on the next generation console. It’s going to be one hell of a time, as you can see. If that wasn’t enough, have a look at Sanctuary.
Like the rest of the franchise, there are pre-order bonuses and multiple editions to choose from. the aforementioned bonuses actually vary depending on where you are pre-ordering your game from. For example: Amazon gets you the Piñata Skull so enemies drop plasma grenades with each melee, Bestbuy nets you a multiplayer map guide and the Grunt Funeral Skull which causing grunts to explode upon death. There is also GameStop’s Bandana Skull giving you unlimited grenades and ammo, the Microsoft Store gives purchasers a $10 Xbox Live gift card code, and finally ShopTo gets you the Bonded Pair Skull which gives a one minute 100% damage boost to one player when the other dies in co-op. But this is only available until December 12th, 2014. Next, the two collectors editions: Limited and MJOLNIR. The former comes with the multiplayer game map and the Grunt Funeral Skull within a Limited Edition steel case. The latter is identical outside of the additional twelve inch Master Chief statue.
There is something so special about Halo as a concept, an idea. I’m talking about the things beyond the visuals, the multiplayer action, and all the hype. I’m talking about the story and the man who drives the whole thing along, Master Chief. Is it the “heroes journey” that makes us love him so much? Or perhaps is the fact that we know he has been designed with only one task in mind; to fight until he dies. The Chief is our noir hero, cloaked in darkness and denying his heroism at every turn. To this day I have drawings I did of him as a child; I idolized him. We can always count on him, trust him, and wake him when we need him.
InFamous: Second Son, if anything, is a reminder that games are fun. Having not played InFamous 1, or 2 on PS3, I went into Second Son not quite knowing what I was in for. After about 12 hours of running, gliding, and neoning(?) all over Sucker Punch’s Seattle I can confidently answer these questions: Has it revolutionized third person action games? No. Has it taken open world video games to new heights? No. Does its narrative push the boundaries of storytelling in games? Certainly not. Is it a gorgeous game, with just enough to do and an overwhelming amount of fun to be had? Hell yes.
Infamous Second Son is Sucker Punch’s third entry in the series, but is more akin to a reboot than a direct sequel. Second Son recognizes the events of the previous games, but this is about a new protagonist, with new powers, and new motivations. You play as Delsin Rowe, a seeker of mischief and graffiti artist extraordinaire. Delsin and his cop brother Reggie who he aims to find trouble with, live on a reservation in the Northwest, part of the ficticious Okomish tribe.
To briefly set up the story; Delsin comes into contact with an conduit - InFamous’ term for people with superpowers - and learns that he is one of them, able to absorb the powers of any conduit he touches. Shenanigans happen, and a government agency known as the D.U.P. (Department of Unified Protection) shows up, wrecking shop on some tribe members. Delsin decides to travel to Seattle and amend the situation, dragging his brother with him.
Combat in Second Son is its biggest draw, which is a good thing, as the majority of your time in the game will spent blasting at your enemies with various powers. Although each power you attain is different, they all have what boils down to the same moves, with different color palette swap and a few varying qualities. There is a basic projectile, a more powerful missile type of shot, an area of effect move, and a “Karma Bomb”, an ultimate attack you can unleash after getting a streak of either kills or non-lethal takedowns.
Your powers are not only a weapon, they are your vehicle. Each power you acquire has its own way of navigating you around the city. Smoke lets you quickly dash forward, through gates or fences, and into vents on the sides of buildings that propel you up onto the roof. Other powers have their own unique way of getting you around the city. If you’re anything like me, you’ll end up using neon the most, as not only can it be the quickest, it is the best looking.
Whether you are blasting at enemies, or traversing the high rises, the game looks fantastic. Built from the ground up specifically for the PS4, Second Son is a marvel to look at. Often I would find myself reaching the top of a building, only to slowly pan the camera 360 degrees to take in my surroundings. Absorbing powers from their sources is a joy, the animations for each power are done incredibly well (especially neon). The main character models are all done really well, and have the best facial animation I’ve ever seen in a game.
Second Son’s Seattle is not completely destructible, but your powers definitely allow for destruction. The D.U.P has set up mobile command centers and conduit gene fingerprint scanners throughout the city. Anything with D.U.P. on it is able to be blown to bits. Destroying finger scanners reward you with blast shards, which are the games currency for upgrading each of your powers. The mobile command centers are areas with a concentration of D.U.P. agents, once they are taken out the D.U.P. loses a considerable amount of control over that district of the map. This also shows where all the side missions and blast shards can be located in that district.
Side missions essentially boil down to doing the same four activities in each district of the game. You’ll shoot down a hidden camera, find an audio log, chase a secret D.U.P agent, or tag the walls of structures with graffiti. They are a complete bore after the third or fourth time, and unfortunately are the only way to lower the D.U.P’s control over that district. With the exception of spray painting, which is done through some clever controller mechanics. Each piece of graffiti is unique,as you can choose to either create a “good” or “evil” piece of art, and some of them are actually really cool to see. Once the control percentage has dropped enough in a district, you can do a “District Showdown” which involves either eliminating enemies or helicopters.That’s about it.
Enemy variety just isn’t there, you’re either fighting D.U.P. agents, D.U.P agents with powers (they only ever use one kind of power), or drug dealers. I’m okay with the idea that Delsin is taking on a government agency, and that they are the most common enemy. But as fun as it was to use the diverse powers against them, it would have been cool to fight a number of them with diverse powers myself.
Whether it’s good or bad, the game doesn’t overstay its welcome, so the tedium never really dragged down my experience. In my first play through, doing 100% of everything as a True Hero, it took me around 12 hours to complete. There end up being not very many story missions, if some of them weren’t gated by you having not taken out a command center, the game could probably be completed much faster.
As with the first two InFamous titles, karma plays a big part of the game. Well, it wants to. You can either play an evil or good version of the game depending on the side missions you do and the sparse number of story options you can pick during cut-scenes. The problem with the story options are their binary nature. You’re either the hero, or a complete bastard. There is absolutely no ambiguity in any of those decisions. Even in game play you’re either saving people and busting drug dealers, or straight up terrorizing citizens.
Depending on those choices, cut-scenes will play out differently, and you’ll get a different ending. Second Son’s story is focused, and straightforward. I wasn’t shocked by anything, there was no twist that left me jaw dropped. The story was good, I enjoyed it. It just didn’t blow me away. The writing on the other hand is where the game shines. The characters are realized, I cared about Delsin, I cared about his brother. The character’s interactions are all handled so well, it’s just a shame the game’s narrative wasn’t as interesting.
InFamous: Second Son is not game changer. I don’t believe it will shift action games in a new direction. But maybe that’s not what Sucker Punch set out to do when developing this game. Maybe they weren’t trying to push any boundaries,or break new ground. Maybe they just wanted to make game that looks really god damn good, and is a hell of a lot of fun to play. If so, they succeeded.
Last Tuesday marked the release of the heavily anticipated Dark Souls II.I was amongst the fans of the first Dark Souls, who were hungry for some more punishment. Although I wouldn’t say I was only a month ago. It was only recently that I complete the first Dark Souls, and linked the fires. And although I felt very accomplished having defeat the final boss, I also felt that I had cheated myself. An extensive guide was my crutch throughout the game. I looked to it for where important items were, what the proper boss order should be, and how to defeat said bosses. I really enjoyed beating that game, but I didn’t do it the correct way.
I told myself that I would wait on Dark Souls II. I knew that there was no way I could conquer that game without the use of a guide and supplemental youtube videos. I wanted to wait until an enhanced edition was released on a next gen console, so that I could get some use out of my Playstation 4. Alas, I found myself at a Gamestop last tuesday, with a copy of Dark Souls II in my hand.
There was something I couldn’t resist. That feeling of defeating your foes and claiming their souls to make yourself stronger. I craved it. I craved the “gorgeous views”, the messages left by other players to taunt me. What I hadn’t realized until last night, is that what really draws me to the Dark Souls series are the parts that force you to be brave, unafraid of the unknown. I decided to play Dark Souls II without the use of a guide, without the use of boss strategies and neogaf forums. I know nothing how far into the game I am, I know nothing of what lies ahead of me. I only know what I have done, and of the enemies which I have laid waste.
Everyone is able to play Dark Souls as they see fit. Your character can excel in whatever you decide, as long as you have the souls to do so. I chose to play a Knight, one who wields a sword and shield. I slash and thrust into foes, up close and personal. But playing the game is not just about how you defeat your enemies, it’s about how brave you are. It’s about conquering the darkness in front of you.
At its most basic, Dark Souls uses a Risk/Reward system. The more enemies you defeat, the further you adventure, the greater the reward. But should you die, all of your souls become lost, and you’ve but one life to return to where you died and retrieve them. Although that isn’t to say death is a punishment.Death has its own reward, knowledge. You may have died, you may have lost all your souls, but you have gained knowledge of your path. You know what awaits you in the darkness, and you are more able to defeat it.
As with many RPG games, as you work your way through the game, your character becomes stronger. The souls you collect from every fallen enemy are your key progression. You use them to increase your stats, to buy items, and enhance those items. Unless you are an extreme veteran player, they are everything. During my adventure in the first Dark Souls, acquiring souls was amongst the most rewarding part of the game, second only to overcoming tough boss fights. Dark Souls II has changed that. And although defeating bosses and acquiring souls make the game enjoyable, they are no longer the most rewarding aspect.
Fear has become the best part of Dark Souls II. Specifically overcoming it. When you press forward into an unknown area, one littered with darkness and enemies and you have a large number of souls, there is no greater thrill. Every step becomes a calculated move. Every fight, no matter how weak the enemy, makes your heart pump faster and faster. Without the safety of a bonfire near, one wrong move means the end of your life, and the loss of all your hard earned souls.
I have received no greater reward from a game, than defeating a boss and moving onto a new area with no idea of what lies ahead. I could turn back, I could use an item that transports me back to a bonfire, back to safety. But sometimes, facing the darkness, and facing your fear is a far greater victory.
Dark Souls is about courage, and the will to press on through whatever lies ahead. There is beauty in that.
Beauty and Terror.