Game of Thrones by Benjamin Sawyer

The Game of Thrones series is, without exaggeration, one of the most popular shows to ever grace the television. How can something as notable as Game of Thrones be recreated in a cel shaded adventure game?

Telltale made it look easy.

From the first moments of series at the infamous Red Wedding, to the last, tense moments that spread throughout Westeros and Essos, Telltale's Game of Thrones feels like a proper extension of the televised universe. Numerous characters from the show make appearances, in both small and large roles, all voiced by their original actors, each decision that you are challenged with holds that same grim, dark, fatality, of each episode of the show, and things frequently go from comfortable to dangerous in less time than you would need to prepare yourself. Don't fall in love with any characters, because nobody's survival is guaranteed. But alas! It is hard to speak to the games truly great moments without, in true Game of Thrones fashion, spoiling something for those of you who have not played it.

Telltale's Game of Thrones is out now, in its entirety, and can be bought both digitally and on disc for $29.99 (though some sell it digitally for $24.99), a price that many Game of Thrones fans would be more than willing to pay. The six-part episodic adventure is unequivocally, one of Telltale's best titles, easily one of the best adaptations of both written and televised media in videogames, and one of the most replayable games by the developer that I have played. 

Becasue, after all, who hasn't watched an episode of Game of Thrones and wanted to change its outcome?

Try and snag Game of Thrones for $24.99, but dont be afraid to pay $29.99, it is well worth full price.

@LubWub 
~Caleb 

Star Wars Battlefront by Benjamin Sawyer

A few years ago, around the closing of Lucasfilm’s game development studio, it was revealed that a third Battlefront title had been in the works but had been canned. Fans around the world were left to wonder how great that game would have been. Then last year EA revealed that Battlefront was not dead, and that it had teamed with Battlefield veterans DICE to make a new iteration of the beloved series. And they delivered.

Star Wars Battlefront is an absolute blast across the board. Whether it is flying an X-Wing or TIE fighter in huge air battles or flying across a battlefield as Boba Fett, Battlefront is pure bottled joy. The sound engineering is as immersive as any DICE title, it is visually stunning, and it does a great number of things superbly. Although, perhaps the best thing about Battlefront is its shallow learning curve. Of all of the shooters that released this fall, this title is the easiest to pick up and have fun with. The blasters are simple to use, flying is predominantly mapped to a single stick, and each game mode starts with a tutorial (that is skippable) before every match.

There aren’t many titles that are released that can bring nostalgia back in floods of red and green like Star Wars. The feeling that I had, flying an X-Wing on a strafing run across the snow drifts on Hoth, taking down an AT-ST, then breaking off to chase down a TIE fighter and sending it screaming into a mountain, are unlike any other feelings that a game has given me before.

Star Wars is $59.99, and its season pass (like Call of Duty or Battlefield) is $50, but the first DLC that will have a price tag won’t release until January or February, so feel free to wait on that. And while there isn’t a single-player story mode at all, the mission and survival modes do what they can to fill a gap that many games have decided to leave completely devoid of content. With trades the price is marginally negotiable ($40-55 range, depending on what you’re willing to part with), but be prepared to shell out for Star Wars.

@LubWub 
~Caleb 

Fallout 4 by Benjamin Sawyer

As a newcomer to the Fallout series, I had no idea what to expect as I stumbled out of Vault 111, looked into the radiated sky, scanned the septic horizon and set forth on my long, bloody journey. Dozens and dozens of hours later I stepped back, took a deep breath, and looked at what I had done. I have protected the weak, slain monsters, liberated historic forts, fallen in love, and all of it – every bullet, bottle cap, and abandoned brewery, is absolutely intoxicating.

Bethesda’s most recent title has been 7 years in the making, and, being the first major single-player release developed by the Maryland-based studio since Skyrim, expectation and anticipation were on levels that few games have to meet. But it’s Bethesda, 3 of their last 4 games (published or developed) have won game of the year. Fallout 4 will soon sit among familiar company.

With a ton of character, a robust crafting system, an expansive, dangerous, and mysterious world, and a proclivity for the terrifying, Fallout 4 is perhaps one of the best games yet on the Xbox One and PS4. You can do anything. I have spent 3 hours in one morning just building one of my houses. I have spent entire nights crawling through factories, homes, and sewers without completing a single quest. Fallout 4 is irresistibly fun, with solid gunplay (inspired by Destiny), and an alluring world that will keep you up at night and still have you begging for more.

One of the only games on this list well worth more than the asking price of $59.99, Fallout 4 is a must-have Game of the Year contender that cannot be missed. The season pass is only an additional $30, and few Developers/Publishers deserve your extra money more than Bethesda.

Owners of an XBox One will also be happy to know that the purcahse of a new copy of Fallout 4 includes a download code for Fallout 3.

@LubWub 
~Caleb 

Call of Duty Black Ops III by Benjamin Sawyer

Another year, another Call of Duty. The Activision franchise, arguably one of the largest game franchises ever, has become a yearly event. Every year, players line up in droves to get their hands on the next Call of Duty: Insert Subtitle Here. Call of Duty has become a sport, both in gameplay and release. The only thing that differentiates these titles from the likes of FIFA or Madden or NBA is the type of game.

But I don’t want to discount Call of Duty completely, the series has proven that it can hold attention over time, and this most recent installment is no different. Treyarch reimagined what a campaign can do, brought a solid cast to their Zombies campaign, and added a fluid motion system to their already critically acclaimed multiplayer. Despite the fact that the leveling system for campaign encourages more people to play the story than previous installments, everyone knows that you buy Call of Duty for the competitive multiplayer.

Black Ops III’s multiplayer is frighteningly familiar. A trait that is both good and bad in this case.  Yes, the new chained motion system does make jumping, mounting ledges, sliding, and sprinting along the walls very smooth. But to most gamers, that change is just fractionally noticeable. Every element of gameplay is solid, but it was solid last year. Much like Madden, small mechanical and graphical changes are implemented each year, some that are liked by fans, some that are disliked. But overall Call of Duty: Black Ops III doesn’t feel like a significant improvement or difference from last year’s Advanced Warfare, and while that is ok, Call of Duty, in my opinion, isn’t worth the same price as game changers like Fallout 4, or Battlefront.

The game is going to remain high priced throughout the holiday, so the lowest price you’ll be able to find one is about $55. Couple that with the $50 price tag on the Season pass, and the full Call of Duty experience can cost up to $110. If Black Ops III is a must have on your shopping list, do some trading, get rid of last year’s Advanced Warfare, and get that price down $40-45.

@LubWub 
~Caleb 

UPDATE:

Upon further time spent with the game, and the subsequent release of many more games, it has become more and more clear that, when compared to this year's titles, Call of Duty Black Ops III is, in fact, one of the best values of the year. With a full campaign, Zombies mode with its own story, and the massive multiplayer experience, Black Ops III may be on the regrettably short list of the games that are actually worth the asking price. Just something to think about.

Need for Speed by Benjamin Sawyer

Fans of the Need for Speed series have long awaited a game that had the level of customization that the Underground titles had. While this installment definitely ups the ante on car tuning, it seems to be little more than average in many other places. The world is stunning, easily lending towards a Fast and Furious feel that is immediately attractive, but Need for Speed feels like a Burnout Paradise night shift. The open world is familiar, that is all. There isn’t much in the way of innovation that stands out when you start the game. And while the “always night” visual palette makes your vehicle stand out, it takes away from the spectacle of sunlight completely.

The driving mechanics are easy enough to pick up, but finesse tasks like drifting are awkward and unnatural until you unlock and purchase wheels made specifically for your driving style, lending to this uncomfortable feeling of amateurism that most games avoid all together.

Need for Speed is a racing game. Yes, that is a generalization, but there is little about Need for Speed that sets it apart from similar games like Forza Horizon1 & 2, Burnout Paradise, or Need for Speed Most Wanted (the most recent) and Rivals. Yes, the cars are pretty, Need for Speed brought customization back in a big way. Yes, the city is pretty, but when it comes down to brass tacks, Forza and Burnout established this racing environment years ago. The live-action “story” is an interesting attempt at new, but the acting is frightfully bad at times, and we’ve all already seen Fast and Furious.

While Need for Speed is new and, for that reason, remains $59.99 in stores. It is worth $40. Serious fans of the franchise may have more drive (pun intended) to pick this game up, but Forza Horizon 2 is $40 in most places and while it may lack in customization, it is far more mechanically sound.

@LubWub 
~Caleb 

Assassin's Creed Syndicate by Benjamin Sawyer

The last 12 months was littered with titles that failed to live up to their hype, Watch Dogs was underwhelming, Destiny felt like it never left the beta stage for 10 months, Call of Duty Advanced Warfare was meh (surprise), and the Master Chief Collection was plagued by launch bugs. But no title was antagonized by its poor launch more than Assassin’s Creed Unity. Online connectivity was shoddy for months, game breaking bugs caused problems from facial rendering errors that made Arno look like the Mask when he saw Cameron Diaz, to game save losses. So it is safe to say that many fans were apprehensive when Syndicate was announced for this fall.

Over the last few months, Ubisoft made a case for themselves, apologizing for the snafu that Unity was, looking to the community for testing and feedback, and – in possibly the smartest move they could have made – dedicating their largest team to develop an Assassin’s Creed installment devoid of multiplayer for the first time since Brotherhood. And while many people waited to see the reviews before buying, Syndicate is celebrating one of the best releases since Assassin’s Creed III.

Syndicate is a solid game. With several new mechanics that complement the series legacy controls, and giving gamers the option to play as two Assassins – bringing a female lead back for the first time in a major console release since Liberation’s Aveline came to PS3, Syndicate is Assassin’s Creeds much needed return to form. The game doesn’t take itself too seriously, with Sherlock and Cthulhu references working their way in, and Jack the Ripper confirmed for the game’s large DLC installment.

Syndicate remains at its release price of $59.99, but if you still have reservations, a couple of trades could easily bring that price down to $50.

@LubWub 
~Caleb 

Blood Bowl II by Benjamin Sawyer

Have you ever played football games like Madden and wished that it could move more at your own pace? Ever played XCOM and wished that it was more a sports game? The first one is easily a sentiment shared by more than a few people. The second? Not so much. Nevertheless, that is exactly what Blood Bowl is, a turn-based, strategic, violent take, on American football.

The mix is truly uncanny, and the game’s clearly comical take on a universe in which football is a brutal blood sport, played Orcs, Trolls, and humans, maintains the unbelievable combination. Blood Bowl II is the second installment of this series (obviously), and, while I didn’t play the first title, this new one has a lot of the best elements of both football games and turn-based strategy games mixed in with campy fantasy/horror clichés. It is definitely a title that requires a particular set of cravings that are shared by, what I would imagine to be, a small population of gamers. But peculiarity aside, the game was fun. It just wasn’t a niche that I needed to be filled.

Blood Bowl II can be found for just under $40 in most retail stores. If you are unsure of the title, grab a used copy and couple it with some trades to pick it up for closer to $30. Give it a try. You never know, maybe it will fill a gap you didn’t know existed.

@LubWub 
~Caleb 

FIFA 16 by Benjamin Sawyer

Most sports gamers know that, when it comes to sports games, each new installment is little more than a glorified roster update, with fractional improvement to gameplay and visuals. When it comes to FIFA 16, the story is really no different. If you had last year’s title, you basically have this year’s title. Where FIFA 16 stands above its predecessor is in its inclusion of women’s soccer teams for the first time in FIFA history. While this inclusion is absolutely nothing to shake a leg at, the infamously strong fisted NCAA brought the hammer down only a few short weeks after the game’s release and demanded the removal of nearly a dozen female athletes who were still college students, but played on national teams.

NCAA quagmire aside, FIFA 16 maintains its beautiful visual palette and quality mechanical prowess, with improvements to Ultimate Team, multiplayer capability, and goalie controls. Is the game worth $59.99? No. But unfortunately, until sports titles begin treating themselves as seasonal upgrades and not entirely new titles (which fairly demand the same $60 price tag), the launch prices won’t change. EA has been good, in the past, about dropping the price of their newer titles for holiday shoppers. Those prices haven’t been announced yet, but if you can find a copy of FIFA for $30-$40, jump on it.

@LubWub 
~Caleb 

Darksiders II: Deathinitive Edition by Benjamin Sawyer

First of all, yes, that title is real (and somebody was taken to lunch for that idea). Darksiders, like many other games, has come out with a definitive (DEATHinitive) edition in which they have remastered the core gaming experience by revamping the lighting, textures and overall graphics experience. As far as game play goes the balancing and loot distribution systems have been tweaked. Like the Dishonored re-release,  all DLC is included with the packaged game. Darksiders II is a solid game with good bang for the buck value at $26.99 being the release price.

@AnimeKat13
~Kathleen

WWE 2K16 by Benjamin Sawyer

Wrestling has had its ups and downs in the game industry, especially the 2K franchise. 2K16 makes strides back in the right direction. From phenomenal pacing that makes the matches feel more real, to the solid Showcase mode, featuring Stone Cold Steve Austin, the progress is clear. MyCareer mode now feels like it carries actual weight, with in and out of the ring decisions weighing heavily on whether you are a Face or Heel in the Company. The title has also moved towards being more simulation than button masher, rewarding players for knowing what to press and when.

WWE 2K16 is a great improvement on prior installments. Still a new release, it will be difficult to find for less than $59.99, but given sports games and their frequency in the sale section during the holidays, look for this title for around $40-45.

@RellTheProducer
~Duke 

Transformers: Devastation by Benjamin Sawyer

Transformers Devastation aims to connect several gamer generations with their game by Platinum Games and Activision. Platinum Games put together the original voice cast and animation that mimics the original cartoon that aired in the late 80’s while keeping a slick cartoon look to catch the attention of younger audiences. There are 5 levels of difficulty to play through to get repeat gameplay for the price. The melee combat is quick and ferocious and transforming into different forms is a real trip. There are a few bad quirks with camera control, some distracted from the overall gameplay, but overall the title is pretty quality. The new game is $49.99, but it would be a better bargain if you could grab this game around the $40 mark.

@AnimeKat13
~Kathleen

Destiny: The Taken King by Benjamin Sawyer

The first year of Destiny was pretty rough. With a lackluster story, unfair loot systems, and weapon imbalances, the highly hyped title was no stranger to harsh and widespread criticism. The amorphous, expansion/sequel The Taken King launched on the 15th of September and sought to alleviate the said pressure with a new, lengthy campaign, true cutscenes, revamped loot and currency systems, and a larger more ambitions end game raid called Kingsfall.

As a buyer who was more than leery of the “new” Destiny, I went into The Taken King with supremely critical eyes and my verdict: Bungie delivered. The new expansion is robust, taking the gaming space by storm with consistent execution of the promises made. It makes a game that felt, quite frankly, like an extended beta, a deep title worthy of exploration and dedication.

Unfortunately for consumers, The Taken King is a digital expansion, meaning there is no such thing as a used copy of the title. Therefore, the only price available, minus trades at your local GameStop, sits at $59.99. For Destiny players that had the original game and both the Dark Below and House of Wolves, it is possible to buy The Taken King on its own at $40.00. But only digitally. Is it worth those prices? Absolutely, especially if you liked the original release but wanted more content. The Taken King delivers on its promises, and expands on the gameplay that kept so many gamers enthralled for months in 2015.

@LubWub 
~Caleb 

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons by Benjamin Sawyer

Originally an XBLA and PSN exclusive, Brothers is a creative take on the twin-stick style of playing. Rather than making players walk with one stick and aim with another, the sticks control both brothers simultaneously. The unique controls contribute to the game’s puzzler/platformer feel throughout, finding new ways to test players in each level.

It only has a $19.99 price tag, a good price for a game that will stimulate children and charm adults. 

@LubWub 
~Caleb 

Mad Max by Benjamin Sawyer

This year’s feature film Mad Max: Fury Road was a critical and commercial success, reviving a love for a series thirty years in the dirt. The Warner Bros. published game, while worthy of some praise, wasn’t nearly as much of a grand slam. With somewhat clunky driving controls and a less than entertaining ground game, Mad Max got boring rather swiftly for gamers that put in more than a few hours a day. The melee combat is heavy (in a good way) and fun, but for those familiar with Rocksteady’s Arkham series, again – it gets old.

If you are someone who puts one or two hours into a game a night, Mad Max is more than entertaining. If you plan on sinking a lot of hours into it however, despite its beautiful aesthetic, prepare for the mechanics to become stagnant.

Max is $59.99 in most retail outlets, but a used copy can be culled from some shops for between $50 and $55. The title has no announced DLC coming up, so based on the launch day game alone, Max is worth $45, which is an easy price to get if you’re willing to trade a game or two.

@LubWub 
~Caleb 

Metal Gear Solid V (Metal Gear Online) by Benjamin Sawyer

The Metal Gear series is one of the most revered franchises in all of gaming. Known most notably for its cinematic storytelling and espionage gameplay, MGSV is the sum of the series many, many parts. Also, with this latest installment likely being Hideo Kojima’s last, fans of the series are going to want to have this conclusion, albeit a bit of an incomplete one. The title is tactical stealth gameplay (different than the environmental stealth in Dishonored) at its finest. Like an open-world Splinter Cell, players can take on any situation, in any way, at any time. The base-building mechanic of Mother Base and FOB’s adds innumerable opportunities for extended gameplay.

Metal Gear Online, much like Grand Theft Auto Online, launched a month after the base title. MGO gives players a chance to compete in adversarial multiplayer, much like any other FPS or TPS like Call of Duty or Gears, but with a few creative tweaks.

MGSV is a big game, possibly the last of the franchise, and MGO adds a completely different dimension to an already diverse title. And while gamers unfamiliar with the story may be a little lost on the games lofty narrative, a lot of serious fans also have a hard time keeping up with Kojima. So, if you are a fan of tactical espionage, MGSV is a must buy.

The title is still listed as $59.99 new on PS4 and Xbox One, but bring into account that the game has a full multiplayer companion, and 60 bucks still feels like a steal.

@LubWub 
~Caleb 

Dishonored: Definitive Edition by Benjamin Sawyer

Dishonored was easily one of 2012 biggest sleeper hits, and winner of the 2012 VGA’s action/adventure game of the year (over Assassin’s Creed). This year’s Definitive Edition has been remastered and bundled with all of the title’s critically acclaimed DLC (Dunwall City Trials, Knife of Dunwall, and the Brigmore Witches). For gamers who found themselves disappointed by the lackluster return of Thief, Dishonored is the game that Thief should have been.

Again, similar to Gears, Dishonored is a remastered game. Weighing in at $39.99 new, the title is a stealth masterpiece and a visual feast worth every penny.

@LubWub 
~Caleb 

The Swindle - Review by Benjamin Sawyer

Indie Studio Size Five Games' most recent endeavour throws players into an alternate-history, steampunk, Victorian England with one goal, steal as much as you can get your filching fingers on. Set in London in 1849, The Swindle challenges players to stop Scotland Yard's release of an artificially intelligent supercomputer called "The Devil's Basilisk." The catch? You have one hundred days.

In any other game that restricts players to a timeline, one hundred days sounds like a luxury. After all, each Arkham game takes place in a single night, Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns gives you thirteen days, hell, Sonic and Mario only gave you a few minutes. But in The Swindle, a hundred days can, and will disappear in a much shorter amount of time than you would expect.

With procedurally generated heists, RPG influenced ability trees, and a roguelike take on death and difficulty, The Swindle will challenge you from the first to the last. No two heists are the same, some will even give you challenges that you can not overcome until you attain certain skills, and each heist you attempt, whether you leave with the whole take, a partial take, or the heist takes you, costs you a day. And it is almost ludicrously easy to bite it. Miscalculated jump lands you in spikes, dead. Fell too far running from the ploice after you set the alarm off, dead. Accidentally stepped to close to a mine while disarming it, dead. 

But it is this level of difficulty that gives the player the ultimate feeling of accomplishment. If you can navigate through the harrowing task that is stealing every penny from an establishment and then make your way out alive, you get a feeling of accomplishment that few games give you. But don't let it get your head. Don't let the one heist you pull of perfectly make you foolhardy, because the game will remind you of your mortality swiftly and with the deftness of a professional pick-pocket.

The Swindle is hard. From the outset the game makes it painfully clear that its only goal is to end you. But that is what keeps you coming back. Because when you do best it, the pride you feel always overshadows the anger of dying in the dumbest way possible five minutes earlier (and two minutes before that, and thirty seconds before that). Add to that, the fact that each death gives you a new, procedurally generated thief with a comically steampunk name, and there are numerous reason why this game will keep you in front of your TV for hours.

A game for the lionhearted, The Swindle is a fun take on permadeath, platforming stealth, and procedural generation. While it isn't perfect, the reward of a perfect take is enough to keep you cawling back through the maze of booby traps and security guards for more, again and again.

NerdyBits gives The Swindle a solid 8 bits out of 10.
The Swindle was played on an Xbox One. It is also available for PC, PS4 and PSVita.
The Swindle is $14.99 

Size Five Games

@LubWub
~Caleb 

Dying Light Review - Parkour Zombie Slaughter by Benjamin Sawyer

It’s hard to make a zombie game that draws people’s attention anymore. The shambling dead have been overplayed, overused, overwritten, and, frankly, exploited for the last five years. Whether it is The Walking Dead (comic, show, or games), DayZ, the Dead Island games, Warm Bodies, State of Decay, or World War Z (again, book or movie), our entertainment has been overwhelmed by Biters, Walkers, Runners (remember 28 Days Later), Geeks, Rotters, and Lurkers.

So when Polish developer Techland revealed their title Dying Light, the gaming world took it with a little bit of apprehension and exasperation. After all, how many times can you use the same setting before you wear it out? Fortunately for Techland, they had a few ideas.

The best way to describe Dying Light is to describe two other games first: Take the first person free-running/parkour elements of Mirrors Edge (minus the more complex and concentration dependent moves) and the hack and slash, limb targeting melee of Dead Island (also made by Techland), and smash them together. Dying Light is the balanced mixture of those two games, plain and simple. The Parkour is simple and very straight forward. One button covers all of your climbing needs and it doesn’t need to be held unless you are in mid-air and want to grab a ledge you won’t make it to on your feet. There is no controller squeezing requirements like the Assassin’s Creed titles. And the melee, while not as precise as its prior iterations, is easy to learn and eventually master. You will start the game swinging at zombies like a panicked idiot, trust me, but in time you become a juggernaut, swinging sledgehammers with deadly power, and wielding blades with razor-like precision.

The reason I enjoy the zombie setting is because of its ability to bring out the most human of stories. In fact in most games, books, films, and shows featuring the walking dead, they are rarely the largest threat. More often than not, it is the Human Element (also an upcoming zombie game) that proves the most dangerous. It gives us a unique perspective of the darkness of the human condition. Fight the dead, fear the living.

Dying Light’s story follows suit, and would be great had it gone any other way than it did. The cliché tropes (like damsel in distress, or outsider with ulterior motives) that quickly take hold of this game’s narrative, are tired and disappointing. Though it doesn’t necessarily make the story bad, per se, I definitely found myself sighing disapprovingly more than I would want to in any title.

But despite the average story execution, Dying Light is still a blast to play. The dynamic shift when the sun goes down, and the sneaky ploy by the developers to make you go out at night for the double XP boost, works perfectly. And while you will want to stay in the sun as much as you can, there is hardly a more satisfying feeling than seeing the sunrise after a long night of quest completion and hide and seek with Volatiles (the most powerful creatures in the game, who only come out at night) hot on your tracks. Then you get to do it in Co-op.

Dead Island (And Riptide, its follow-up) had co-op down pretty well. Dying Light masters it. Giving players the opportunity to start challenges with their friends that range from races across the rooftops to gore drenched biter killing sprees, Dying Light is a blast with friends. And the beautiful and dynamic environment is enough to keep a team of players occupied for hours, whether it be completing the main story together, hammering out a dozen side-quests, or racing across the map to get to supply drops before the enemy human faction.

Dying light doesn’t do a lot of things new, but it does a lot of things well. And while there are a few flaws, they come out in the wash of blood and zombie parts you and your friends leave in your wake. NerdyBits gives Dying Light 3 out of 5 bits.

@CalebTSawyer
~Caleb 

Lara Croft: Temple of Osiris Review by Benjamin Sawyer

“A new Tomb Raider game?” you ask. Yes, but it is not what you are used to if you have played the other Tomb Raider games. The new Tomb Raider game is a sequel of the Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light spinoff which was released in 2010.

The original Tomb Raider was released in 1996 for PC, Sega Saturn, and PlayStation. The game became a widely popular third-person shooter mixed with puzzles following the chronicle of Lara Croft. This is the extent of what stayed the same for the spinoff game of Tomb Raider: Temple of Osiris. 

Temple of Osiris was released December 9, 2014 as a 1-4 player dungeon crawl, action adventure game for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. It was developed by Crystal Dynamics, the same studio to develop the Gex the Gecko series and several other Tomb Raider titles like Legend, Anniversary, and Underworld. 

Lara and a rival adventurer, Carter Bell, enter a tomb in Egypt in hopes of finding the staff of Osiris. When Carter grabs it, he curses them both, releases the Egyptian god Set who wants to enslave the world, and releases the Egyptian gods Isis and Horace (wife and son of Osiris). Isis and Horace join Lara and Carter as they navigate through tombs finding pieces of Osiris to recreate the god, lift the curse, and stop Set. 

Like other Tomb Raider collections, Lara is boisterous, especially when competing with Carter in treasure rooms. Isis and Horace are the calmer and more level headed characters, but lack the modern history references made by Carter and Lara which makes for some light humor.  

Lara and the group are mainly at the Temple of Osiris which is broken down into smaller temples or tombs to explore. Each tomb has objectives for the players in order to receive rings, guns, health increases, and ammo increases. In the tomb there is a mixture of puzzles and enemies to defeat, and in some cases there is a big boss battle.

At the end of each tomb, the characters are transported to a treasure room with extra gems to pick up and several chests to open. Each time you open a chest, you have to pay gems. Chests can be opened for 100, 250, 500, and 1000 gems. The items found in the chests are rings that have different effects and limits. You can replay the tomb as many times as desired in order to complete the objectives or gain more gems to open chests.

There are also optional tombs, some more hidden than others, that are only puzzle based. The optional tombs’ rewards range from better guns, to health  and ammo increases, but these puzzle areas don’t have a treasure room like the other tombs.

There seems to be a major flaw in the equipment rewards, sadly. Even though you can save up to buy the 1000 point chest, you can still get an item found in a cheaper chest. And some rings have more limits than effects that make it worthless to equip. Another problem is that a character can only equip 2 rings at a time even though you can have 20+ rings a couple tombs into the game. There needs to be more of a balance of equipment found, the power of the equipment, and the limits. Statistics of equipped gear would have been nice to easily see a difference between the items of the characters.

The isometric angle seen in Guardian of Light and Temple of Osiris is very different from the closer third person camera angle seen in other Lara Croft games. The camera is helpful if you have more than one player so you can see the map, but very limiting as well. All four characters have to stay on the screen which can cause characters to be stuck or die during a level. It’s nice you can have up to four players, but two is really more manageable and enjoyable- unless you like moving in a tight circle blowing up your teammates with bombs. 

Because the camera is set up like a dungeon crawl and not like the other camera controls seen in the Tomb Raider franchise, shooting is a bit inaccurate. You still have a trigger to shoot, but the aim is set in a radius which may or may not hit your mark while you’re trying to stay on screen. Bombs are a little more accurate and can be used to deal extra damage and  to blow away hordes of enemy attackers rather than using the guns. 

Guns are rated on the damage they cause, the reload speed, and the ammo they consume. The guns are plentiful in this game, but there isn’t much of a variety. You might find yourself completing objectives for the tombs for the new weapons only to keep your current selection more often than changing it for the “better” gun. 

Despite some of the downsides of the game, it is fun to try and retry tombs by yourself or with friends. It is also entertaining to hear the one liners Lara has for each tomb. If you are a fan of dungeon crawl games, you will be disappointed in gear setup and gear effects. If you are an action adventure fan or Tomb Raider fan and you don’t mind some slight gameplay changes, this game is for you. 

~Kathleen (Kat)

 

 

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Review by Benjamin Sawyer

This year is a big year for the Call of Duty franchise. This fall’s installment (because they are basically yearly now) marks the first Call of Duty, made for major gaming platforms, that was made by a developer other than the dynamic duo of Treyarch and Infinity Ward. Sledgehammer, while being involved in development for the last four years in varying small to medium roles, took the helm for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Now, in most franchises, an alteration in lead development is a harbinger for bad things to come. People Can Fly took the helm for the most recent Gears of War, leading to a humbling disappointment of a title that showed Microsoft that, maybe Gears of War isn’t as infallible as they thought. Batman: Arkham Origins, though few people caught it, was developed by Warner Bros. Interactive, not Rocksteady, the developer of the first two installments of the series, and while Arkham Origins wasn’t exactly a failure, it did feel underwhelming. The examples of successful games developed by studios new to the title or franchise are far outnumbered by those that were mediocre or outright failures.

So here we have a brand new Call of Duty. Last year’s title, Ghosts, seemed to hold fast to the Call of Duty doctrine, with a campaign soaked in treachery and betrayal, action and explosions, and a multiplayer that, though they’ll never admit it, played, looked, and felt like a recycled experience (though fans seem to have little to no problem with this). Enter Sledgehammer, a studio who, until now, hadn’t created a game on their own. Their only work credit being Modern Warfare 3, a game they took on in a pinch after the Zampella/West departure (with only twenty months to finish), it is safe to say that they are a studio that has found a certain comfort in risky business. But MW3 was a co-op with the remnants of a broken Infinity Ward, Advanced Warfare is Sledgehammer and Sledgehammer alone. It would be a tall order to ask DICE to step in and make a Call of Duty like this, and they’re veterans of the genre.

Then we got our first glimpse of Advanced Warfare. Cutscenes that rivaled movies, Elysium-style EXO suits, and, to top it off, Academy award winner Kevin Spacey. And Spacey wasn’t just going to be some cameo, short-lived and subtle. No he was going to be one of the central characters. Sledgehammer was about to do something great. Hollywood was about to infect videogames, and while there had been stars in games before, none looked to be as impactful as Advanced Warfare was aiming to be.

Impact. Power. Two words, as important to Call of Duty as ever. So Sledgehammer built a game around them. Immediately, as Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare launches, that is unmistakably clear. The cinematics are, as you would expect (though so few truly deliver), cinematic. But not in a, “man this looks good for a videogame,” kind of way. More in the realm of, “this isn’t a movie?” In fact the last time I got chills equivalent to those I felt in those first five minutes was when the opening cinematic of Halo 4 began. And Halo 4 only did that for its opening and closing. Advanced Warfare does this for every cutscene. They are Blur good (and if you don't know who Blur is, first of all, shame on you, and second: your welcome) These scenes are so good, in fact, that you are far more willing to forgive any flaws when the game actually gets started (more on that shortly).

This Call of Duty, while intimidating in its presentation, when you get down to brass casings, is little more than another installment in a series so successful mistakes are almost completely overlooked. Don’t get me wrong, the game has its moments. Troy Baker (Joel from The Last of Us, Booker DeWitt from Bioshock Infinite) and Gideon Emery (Battlefield 3’s Blackburn, Stahl from Killzone: Shadow Fall) both nail, quite convincing roles, and Kevin Spacy is just as menacing and coercive as Francis Underwood (House of Cards) ever was. As I stated before, the story is beautiful to watch, and it starts so powerfully. But midway through the game the arc begins to hiccup, just before diving into archetypal nonsense that felt forced in its best moments and just plain boring in others.

Outside of the cinematic story cutscenes, Advanced Warfare doesn’t feel very different than any other Call of Duty game. The AI is a little smarter, the sound engineering a little more powerful (though, still not Battlefield level umph), and the campaign missions are full of action that is just a little more over the top. The visual candy shop that happens when you aren’t using the controller, however, fades away as soon as you pick it back up. Several background textures were noticeably “meh” and a few were blatantly “eww” (look at the trees during the first scene your character meets Spacey).

Sadly, the campaign also failed to take advantage of the EXO suits. There were a few really interesting applications, but even those were, more often than not, applications that you saw in the bevy of trailers that came out leading up to release day (a trend in Hollywood that has nearly forced me to stop watching movie trailers).

Multiplayer felt like, well, Call of Duty multiplayer (…again). And while I will admit, the usefulness of the EXO suit increases exponentially, I still found myself playing without it, save for jumping up to a few good crow’s nests. It is fast paced, vicious, and has a deep persistence, all things that frequent CoD (not the fish) players will have grown accustomed to, and are very welcoming to most newcomers. It just feels a little too “recycled.” Yes, there is a lot of promise here. I said it in the beginning of this review. Sledgehammer made a game that stands next to the rest of the Call of Duty family with broad shoulders and lifted chin. For a first game in the driver’s seat, that is a hell of an accomplishment and there is no end to the possibilities of what they do next. 

 

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, while a strong first lap for newcomer Sledgehammer, didn’t exactly quick-scope the cap off of our head. NerdyBits gives it 7 bits out of 10.

@CalebTSawyer
~Caleb