Friday, October 19, 2012

'Walking Dead: The Game' Review - A Dark Zombie Tale

'Walking Dead: The Game' Review - A Dark Zombie Tale

The Walking Dead: The Game is a five-part episodic series set in the grim, violent world of The Walking Dead comic books, which are being penned by Robert Kirkman. To this point the video game is playing like a celebration of its source material. Characters are believably fickle, action is sudden and terrifying, the potential of violence colors every scene, and you participate in a lot of truly dark and gruesome scenarios.
Boil the experience down: the Walking Dead: The Game is a series of games about broken people in a broken world where decisions are made in sudden bursts of anger, fear, and frustration. This is revealing stuff. We're not good people, the game says, because when we make choices we do so expecting something in return more often than not.

Choice is an important component in this series. Characters you interact with remember what you've said to them and respond accordingly down the line. You will also decide who lives and who dies at specific points in the story. Smart production and writing amp up the drama and tension of these moments, while the promise of the series itself makes you feel like everything you do carries actual weight.
The most engaging moments in the series revolve around choice. You consider if a person is worthwhile to your group or if he or she needs to know something. The repercussions, in some instances, of your choices appear instantly. Others don't, making you wonder if you'll ever have to deal with any consequences -- a delightful feeling to experience.
In the series, you play as a convict named Lee. In the opening of the first episode, Lee finds himself hurt and surrounded by ghouls after an accident. Unsure of what's going on, Lee takes off in search of someone, anything. Soon, he meets a young girl that he decides to put under his wing.
In the early going, Lee is more of a vehicle than a defined character. In these episodes, your decisions as Lee, whether you choose to reveal his past, buddy up with certain characters, or take control of situations, lets you express yourself in this world. As the series progresses, Lee starts becoming an actual character defined by a rudimentary moral code and his distaste for his past. As the series progresses, Lee begins to soften as he and Clementine grow closer, which is a neat touch.
This is an adventure game series first and foremost. When there is "action," it occurs in QTE segments that have you tapping or swiping contextually as a zombie runs towards you. These are gruesome scenes, but they're more than just cheap thrills -- characters will notice what you do and maybe even change their attitude towards you as a result of what you've done. This is pretty cool.
There are "puzzles," but most of the time, instead of having to put together whacky item combinations, the game asks you questions. Do you want to guard what you did? If so, how will you respond to someone who might know without you telling them? Will you let them die? Will you lie?
The much more traditional puzzle scenarios have you searching for an object and setting up a dramatic chain of events in order to find what you're looking for. In the first episode, there's an entire chain of zombie killings you'll have to take part in by interacting with the environment and setting up each kill. In the third episode, you'll be tasked with figuring out how to start a train and assembling the tools necessary to do so.
It's important to note that these touch versions feel great. Slide your fingers to move Lee, tap to pick a dialogue option, and swipe when asked during action. Technically, the series to this point runs fine on new iPad -- we've seen no audio bugs or the usual Telltale game issues like stuttering, tearing, or plain not working as intended. Also, it doesn't appear as though these ports do anything new. These are the same game(s) you may have played months ago.
With that said...

Episode 1 - A New Day

Episode 1 does a couple of things well. The first is build an incredible world. No horror in The Walking Dead is out of bounds. In sudden, terrible bursts of crimson and fury, people die or turn. Some might even give up.  This is stuff that makes for interesting drama, and there's plenty of it over the course of the two-and-a-half hour episode. You're never sure who will end up dead next or how people will respond to each other when it gets intense. Talk about tension.
A lot this episode has you figuring out who people are  and deciding what you want to say or reveal in order to control the spin on horrible situations. For example, early on, you have to kill Clementine's zombified babysitter right in front of Clementine. Once you're done pummeling the babsitter's head into pieces, you're forced to explain what just went down and why to Clementine. Illusion or not, the dialogue tree for this is expansive, allowing you to coddle the girl, tell her the truth, or obscure what happened. This isn't exactly video game-y, but it's engaging.
Writing is another area where this excels, and that helps cover up this episode's gaping hole: there's not a lot to physically do. The dialogue in particular is sharp, while the overall plot of the episode provides tons of drama, tension, and insane action. The choices you'll make are, for the most part, rather grey, which is always a nice touch in a game with a world so screwed.
One particular constituent part we enjoyed, whether inadvertent or purposeful, is that we got to define how people perceive Lee. We kept his secret from people by deciding not to talk about it when prompted or lying when directly asked about it. When a character suddenly said they knew what we did, we actually made a conscious decision to get rid of them. You don't get to do this in many games, so it made a positive impact.
Another thing: we appreciated the pacing. A New Day moves as a pretty steady clip. You see several different areas and the action comes in dramatic bursts. The adventure game "puzzle" sections actually felt a bit sluggish compared to the rest of the episode, but the important thing is that they're not stupidly thrown in. These sections have impact on story progression; they serve a larger purpose, in other words.
It'll be interesting to see how our choices impact the larger story. That's our one, true gripe of Episode 1. You see glimpses of how things pan out, but you never really get a sense of how many things are going to change. For a game that constantly reminds you that people care about what you say and has you choosing who lives and who dies, it needs to deliver. We'll have to wait to see if it can.

Episode 2 - Starved for Help

Walking Dead Episode 2 starts with a bang, an intense scene that mirrors the themes and conflicts you'll see throughout the entire episode. It asks what's important to Lee, and then it has him prove it in the most awful and savage way possible.
Starved for Help is all about how far Lee is willing to go, not only to protect himself, but also his group. It's also about the people you're with, how they want to function in and interpret their screwed reality. You'll make hard choices with collateral emotional damage that can never be undone. If you play it out like us, you'll shatter people.
For all the violence, bone, and viscera being thrown around in this episode, it's weird to peg the script as the reason we kept moving along. Starved for Help is small in scope and scale and just teases actual movement to come, but it works well within its creative confines, fleshing out characters, creating tense situations, and delivering a scenario that is as bizarre and terrible as anything else in The Walking Dead proper.
And once again, we toyed with the idea of protecting Lee's past, opting to let a person die who knew his secret. It'll be interesting to see if this ever pans out, if, at some point, there will be no-one left who knows what Lee has done.
Choice is as important as ever in this episode, and you get some immediate pay-offs, but Starved for Help ultimately doesn't prove that any choice we've made so far has impacted the larger story. We're still left wondering, for example, how our actions are informing the relationship between Lee and Clementine. Or if Lee is changing as a result of some of the more... emotional decisions we've made so far.
If there's something we'd knock in this episode, it'd be the lack of video game-y stuff. The dialogue wheel's options still feel as engaging as ever, but there's a notable lack of adventure game action in this episode; the puzzle sequences are easily solvable and there's points in this episode where you really don't have any agency at all.
That said, Starved For Help is still incredible. The pacing is brilliant, the scenario is seriously warped and entertaining, and its attention to developing relationships will keep you making interesting decisions and thinking about the small, immediate consequences of your actions.

Episode 3 - Long Road Home

It's weird. You'll pop more brain caps with bolts of metal in Long Road Home than in any other previous episode of Walking Dead: The Game. Shooting sections are frequent and one in particular lingers, allowing Lee to rake in an obscene number of kills. But Long Road Home is more impactful on an emotional level than it is satisfyingly visceral. For once, you'll be forced to explore the relationships of every party member -- good, so-so, or just flat-out broken -- and deal with the consequences of some of your actions.
For instance, the fact that Lee is a murderer in the law's eyes is confronted, whether the majority of people who knew about his past are dead or not. Also, the bond between Lilly and Lee is hopelessly disconnected in Starved For Help. How she reacts to Lee and her world after the events of that episode are fully explored in Long Road Home in a satisfying, intense, and wicked ways.
This episode takes place in much more realistic confines. After discovering a traitor is sneaking pills, an event forces the crew to leave the motel. A solid chunk of Long Road Home takes place on a working locomotive after yet another devastating event. The goal being to reach Savannah, Georgia.
It's hard to nail a theme for Long Road Home other than "moving on," but the one thing this episode in hits, er, home, is how all decision making is now being informed by this new, terrible reality. In brilliant flashes, rash decisions are made and the consequences are immediate, and for the most part, wretched. Credit to Telltale for strengthening ties to the point where scripted behavior even has the slightest impact emotionally.
Adventure game "action" segments come back in a big way, but unlike in the first episode of the series, they fail to serve up tension on a platter. Most of the stuff you'll "do" are simple, almost busywork kind of puzzles that eat up time and otherwise feel flat in comparison to the actual dramatic moments.
But, oh, those moments -- they're why we play. You'll lose people this episode. You'll probably do a few terrible things, too. But you might also gain a new friend. You can no longer ignore Clementine, as the ties between the girl and Lee are strengthened through a couple of forced, yet touching scenes.
Long Road Home doesn't answer our larger question about the long-term consequences of playing Lee as we do. Yet, it's still an amazingly impactful episode with tons of great emotional moments that we're afraid to even be vague about, as evens hints would spoil the fun. The conclusion in particular is one of those "Oh my god what how is this oh no" kind of things that have us absolutely stoked to see Episode 4 when it hits.


Overall, The Walking Dead appears to be delivering on the comic book's vision, but it's also executing on things that we rarely see in video games. Its people feel like actual people and we're making tough choices as we explore this world as Lee. Fantastic writing bolsters an overall package that feels like something Kirkman would pen. Puzzle sections are also good; they might feel slightly out of place, but they serve the story in smart ways.
We just wonder now if any of our choices will truly matter as the series progresses. That's a question we'll have to keep asking over the next few months.
It's arguable that this is a video game. Aside from short puzzle sections, you're mostly just answering questions and building relationships in a world gone bad. That's kind of what The Walking Dead is all about though. So, if you're fond of The Walking Dead and want to play something that takes that source material seriously, and tells a great story while it does it, this game is definitely it. If you're looking for something much more involving from a joystick perspective, you might want to look elsewhere.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Top 10 Best Selling Games of September 2012 (USA)

What were the Top 10 best selling games in September 2012 in the United States?
The newest NPD numbers are in, and so are the top lists of the highest selling game systems and games for September in America.
Here is the full Top 10:
1. Madden NFL 13 (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PS Vita) Electronic Arts — 2.55+ Million Sales (up 11% over Madden 12)
2. Borderlands 2 (Xbox 360, PS3, PC) Take Two Interactive — 1.48 Million Sales (up 234% over Borderlands 1)
3. FIFA Soccer 13 (Xbox 360, PS3, PS Vita, Wii, 3DS, PSP) Electronic Arts
4. New Super Mario Bros. 2 (3DS) Nintendo — 295,000+ Sales
5. Guild Wars 2 (PC) NCSoft
6. NHL 13 (Xbox 360, PS3) Electronic Arts
7. World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria (PC/Mac) Activision Blizzard
8. NCAA Footbal 13 (Xbox 360, PS3) Electronic Arts
9. Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes (Wii, Xbox 360, NDS, PS3, 3DS, PS Vita, PC) Warner Bros. Interactive
10. Battlefield 3 (Xbox 360, PS3, PC) Electronic Arts

Final Fantasy XIII-2: New World (Song Cover)

Welcome to our Video Games: Song Covers segment. Here I’ll be singing some of your favourite and most requested video game tracks.
Here I’m performing “New World” from the Final Fantasy XIII-2 soundtrack. This song is the main theme for the Japanese Xbox 360 and Western releases of the game. “New World” is heard during the game’s ending scenes, and was originally performed by Filipina singer Charice Pempengco. The Final Fantasy XIII-2 soundtrack was composed by Masashi Hamauzu, Naoshi Mizuta and Mitsuto Suzuki.
I hope you enjoy listening to my vocal rendition!

Staring the stars, feeling the winds every time
I cannot stop thinkin’ of you
Since you’ve been gone away from here
Shedding the tears, crying out loud for once
‘Cause you are such a precious part of me
And there’s no one who’ll fill my broken heart
Oh, but now I have realized
The reason why I live in this world
Even you have left me here alone
I found a way where I can get hope for the future
Baby, I’m gonna see the New World
With nothin’ but the love you gave me
Only thing I can do is to trust the time we shared
Baby, I’m gonna go to the New World
With nothin’ but the strength you gave me
There’s nothing to be afraid of
I know your love will lead me where I should be
Even if it is dark and hard times for me
I don’t wanna give up my home
Having a dream, basking in the sun everyday
I’m startin’ to think that I’m still here
Though the pain of loss still hurts me
Makin’ me smile, makin’ me laugh many times
Everything is gentle to me because you are makin’ it so
And now I have realized
The reason why I live in this world
It’s not to lose one I truly need
I will make sure we feel the beautiful days together
Baby, I’m gonna see the New World
With nothin’ but the love you gave me
Only thing I can do is to trust the time we shared
Baby, I’m gonna go to the New World
With nothin’ but the strength you gave me
There’s nothing to be afraid of
I know your love will lead me where I should be
Even if it is dark and hard times for me
I don’t wanna give up my home
Pray for all of the things in this world
And believe in the power of our love
Sing a song of tomorrow
Now we are not alone; we come to life again
A new day will come to you
For you and me
Baby, I’m gonna see the New World
With nothin’ but the love you gave me
Only thing I can do is to trust the time we shared
Baby, I’m gonna go to the New World
With nothin’ but the strength you gave me
There’s nothing to be afraid of
I know your love will lead me where we should be
Even if it is dark and hard times for us
I don’t wanna give up our home…

Darkstalkers Resurrection Collection Announced for PSN & XBLA

Guess what? Darkstalkers are not dead! Capcom announced at the on-going New York Comic-Con 2012 that the fan-favorite Darkstalkers franchise is back and ready to take the fight to current-gen consoles. Featuring a unique and colorful cast of characters, blended with fast-paced fighting action, Darkstalkers Resurrection contains two games, Night Warriors: Darkstalkers Revenge and Darkstalkers 3, that will be available to download in early 2013 for $14.99 on PlayStation Network for PS3 and 1600 Microsoft Points (that’s US$20 / €19.20 / £13.60 / CAN$24.80 / AU$26.40) on Xbox Live Arcade for the Xbox 360.
The two-for-one priced combo breathes new life into each game with a slew of features like:
Robust GGPO-enabled online game play, HD graphical filtering with multiple viewing options, replay sharing, Spectator Mode, in-game achievements, Challenge/Tutorial Mode and an un-lockable vault filled with concept artwork, videos and more.
Watch the Darkstalkers Resurrection Trailer here:

Players who want to face-off against their friends online are able to with GGPO-enabled online game play that helps create a virtually lag-free fighting game experience. Building upon the online system previously introduced in Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition and Marvel vs. Capcom Origins, online game play now includes upgraded matchmaking with additional options such as region matching, ping lock and ping display.
While taking a break from competition, players have replay sharing and Challenge Mode at their disposal to help them hone their fighting game skills. Replays can be uploaded to the game’s match server or directly to YouTube. The Challenge/Tutorial Mode contains trials to help players deepen their knowledge of the characters and their specific strategies. For those that prefer to learn from watching other people play, Spectator Mode and “Watch With Friends” allows players to watch games either live online or saved from previous matches. Players can discuss both live and saved games in real time.
PS: Anyone else find it strange that so many “collection” of game series nowadays come up short one or more games? It’s great that the first game, Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors, is already on PSN, but that leaves XBLA fighting game fans out in the cold. Not that I’m complaining, it’s great they are re-releasing these games in HD with online multiplayer support! :D

Are you excited for Darkstalkers Resurrection on PSN & XBLA?

Resident Evil 6 Disappointment

The wait is over and fans of the Resident Evil games are flocking to the stores and shopping online to get their hands on Resident Evil 6. The towering behemoth franchise has raised some eyebrows over recent years with the new directions and twists integrated and emphasized with the more recent games. Many have claimed the new approach of the series is sapping away the vim of what made the older games household names of gamers around the world. Many wondered if Resident Evil 6 would continue the string of summer blockbuster movies, I mean, games and brush aside elements of fear and suspense that were groundbreaking achievements of games past. In my mind, it's actually the die-hards of the games that may want to steer clear, and those who are new or who have never played that may consider picking this one up. Why do I say that? For many who placed their hopes into the new release, I'm sorry to say, you're in for some disappointment, this is a very different Resident Evil. On the other side of that coin, those of you who get your kicks from intense action and instant thrills of the exploding nature, you're in for a treat. Because Resident Evil 6 may be closer to an action movie with cool special effects and infected monstrosities, than it is to a survival horror-story video game.

Resident Evil 6 Trailer Youtube vid by CapcomUnityVideos

The Good

  • Visually, Resident Evil 6 is a sight to behold (in most cases). Most of the levels provide that feeling of the whole world going to hell with superb and highly detailed graphics that still maintain the Resident Evil feel. In the corresponding story modes, Leon's especially, it's easy to become immersed in the new breakout of hungry hungry zombies as the visuals provide the perfect atmosphere to evoke a real sense of dread and suspense.

  • The voice acting of the seven, yes, seven main characters in their intertwined roles are very well done. Let's be frank, Japanese-influenced games, whether developed or produced, love their character development, a good story, and plenty of cut scenes for you to drool over. Now, many of us are aware of one problem many game developers have run into, bad voice acting. Whether its a bad script or the voice actor isn't right for the part or simply doesn't perform, it's noticeable in the worst possible way. The cast of Resident Evil 6 did a superb job in my books. Not much seemed overacted, and there were very few times when what was supposed to be a serious moment failed to deliver due to the voice acting. Very well done, overall.

  • There are four separate although not entirely distinct stories in Resident Evil 6. Each has a role to play in the overreaching arch of the story and it's fun to strap yourself in and discover parts of the story through the various perspectives of familiar charters and a few new ones. Each story has its own story arch, but much of the information one character doesn't have is filled in by a separate character's story, or something they discover may not make sense to you until you work through part of another story. This is good for two things. One, it's just interesting to begin with and keeps you hooked. And two, it makes for a longer game when so many in recent years take your $60 bucks and laugh when you complete everything there is to do in about four hours.

  • There has been some mixed feelings about the enemies in Resident Evil 6, old and new. I for one feel the enemies were executed to the standards of the Resident Evil franchise. The enemies are varied, have their own unique feel, and many require different strategies to take down in addition to simply hosing them down with lead. Firefights are, in my opinion, one of the weaker mechanics driving the enemy AI (For those new to the games, not all enemies will be shooting at you.) though I will say they seem improved quite a bit for the newest release.

  • For those who like constant action and in your face mayhem, this is the game for you. As many have said, resident Evil 6 plays like, or at least aspires to create the feel of a summer blockbuster with a seven to eight figure budget. This game is, by far, the most action oriented Resident Evil to date.

  • Cooperative play is, for the most part, a success and very fun to play. However, I say this with some reservation as there were times when the game will have you and your bud working together in tandem and implementing some strategy. and there were times when one player is left just standing there while the other player gets to actually do something. But if you're willing to hold tight once in a while, the overall experience can be rewarding.

The Bad

  • There are far too many quick time events in Resident Evil 6. Though fun at first, they quickly become old as the excitement soon dissolves into the mundane. Quick time event after quick time event, you'll begin to feel the repetition. There are so many quick time events that, unfortunately, you'll become so accustomed to seeing them every thirty seconds of gameplay and they will feel bland and uninspired. Most of what you'll do is more or less the same. For a pulse pounding, action-packed game, this would be fine, but even games that utilize quick time evens in abundance must pick and choose how and when to slip them in.

  • The camera in Resident Evil 6 is one of the worst cameras I've endured for a while. As you run, jump, pump the bad guys and hungry zombies and monsters and other abominations with lead, you'll notice something very strange happening. As you run and gun,take cover, struggle and grapple with fiends trying to rip your head off, or even simply run from A to B, the camera takes a mind of its own and swings, pivots, and snaps to the most inconvenient angles that will make even the more simple tasks harder or more awkward than they have any right to be. It's a real pain considering you'll have enough on your plate with guys shooting at you, infected victims smacking you around, and far too many scripted events that can kill you instantly. 

  • The scripted events are made worse because of the camera and many are near impossible to avoid if you're simply at the wrong place at the wrong time.Normally scripted events such as these are fine, nothing wrong with upping the difficulty, but it's that camera that will frustrate you when these scripted events occur and you get plastered against a wall simply because the camera was bugging out and you couldn't respond or react in time.

  • While I'm the kind of gamer who enjoys and appreciates well done cutscenes, I have to say, I agree with the majority of those who complain about how many there are in this game. I don't want to watch a cutscene, walk down the hall, open a door, walk down another hall, and then sit through another cutscene. More isn't necessarily better and doesn't necessarily equate to a better gaming experience for the player. 

  • The other side of cooperative play is that there will be times when one player is left just standing there while the other player gets to actually do something. But if you're willing to hold tight once in a while, the overall experience can be rewarding. And with a game that has quick time events left and right, you can expect most quick time events that you and your friend will do together are nothing more than kicking open a door at the same time. A very big missed opportunity.

  • There is one thing Resident Evil needs to slam the brakes on with future installments  I understand, today's gamers want bigger and flashier thrills, but that also depends on genre. Resident Evil started out as a horror survival game. The developers are more than welcome to add in sections of the game with intense action and explosions and stunts and all that, but at its core, the main focus and emphasis should maintain that level of desperately struggling to survive against those monstrosities that made the original games such an exciting and suspenseful experience. It's a different kind of thrill, but I personally think it would behoove the next Resident Evil if it took a step back and reexamined its roots, and ensuring the next game has a bit more of what made its predecessors so much fun to play.

Resident Evil 6 Final Verdict

Resident Evil 6 is a good game overall. There were moments so pulse-pounding events and moments aplenty. The visuals and cinematics are superb and made all the more organic and rich with a strong cast of talented actors. The story itself isn't much to brag about, and unfortunately, it's the most important things the players want out of a Resident Evil game that are lacking. For that, Resident Evil 6 earns a 6 out of 10.