Tag Archives: RPG

Grizzly Game Review: “Max Payne 3”

For years, the shooter genre has remained largely where it was half a decade ago. Most of the innovations within the genre came largely from incorporating elements from RPG games, most notably by including more customization options as well as various leveling up features. The impact of RPG games doesn’t end here, as video games, in general, are becoming more and more plot-driven. Furthermore, the design focus has shifted from single player to multiplayer, as evidenced by the tremendous success of the Call of Duty series. Max Payne 3 attempts to find a balance among all things: story and gameplay, single player and multiplayer, etc. So the question to ask is, does it succeed?

Before we dive into the details, it’s best if you learn a little something about the franchise. Max Payne 1 was developed by Remedy Entertainment (now largely known for Alan Wake) and was released in 2001. Its subsequent sequel, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, would be released two years later in 2003. The series is largely known for its insane, over-the-top, Hong Kong style action by incorporating bullet time and shootdodge mechanics. It is also embraced by fans for its grimy tone and graphic-novel-like cut scenes. Despite of adoration by critics and hardcore fans, Max Payne 2 performed disappointingly in sales and was left to rot. It wasn’t until 2009 when Rockstar Games, the publisher of the games, announced that Max Payne 3 was in development. After two more quiet years, Rockstar Games finally gave its fans a firm release window of 2012. Now here we are, playing the game.

As mentioned, the story of Max Payne has always been dark and noirish. Max Payne 3 is no exception. This time round, the titular character is even more depressed than ever. Not only is he a suicidal maniac who pops pills like candies and substitutes alcohol for water, he also carries guns. Here’s a question. What is the sum of a man with nothing to lose and lots of guns?

*starts humming music from Jeopardy*


If your answer was lots of trouble, or something along those lines, then I’m glad to tell you that you were right. Basically, Max steps on the toes of some bad people. As a result, he takes up a job offer in Sao Paulo, thousands of miles away from his home in New Jersey. There, he is assigned to protect the wife of Fabiana Branco, wife to the rich and powerful Rodrigo Branco. Fueled by the loss of his loved ones, Max feels absolutely obliged to protect Fabiana. So, when Fabiana is kidnapped, Max goes ahead and unleashes wrath’s of fury upon those who took her away, and more importantly tries to bring Mrs Branco back safely.

For the most part, the plot is fairly straightforward, even predictable at times. It is very much in tone with the first two games, in which smaller events unveil larger conspiracies. Compared to the last two games, the storyline in Max Payne 3 is a lot more grounded and believable. Many had concerns over the atmospheric change in the game, citing that Sao Paulo is not nearly as dark as New York, and hence, the end product would end up going against its roots. Personally, the change in setting didn’t affect me one bit. The story is as dark as ever and the setting doesn’t change that fact. Plus, there are flashback missions set in New Jersey, which should please the doubters. Generally speaking, the story is fine. There are, however, a couple of moments which are clearly products of lazy writing, and they can’t simply be disregarded.

With that being said, why should you care about the story? The answer is simple. Max, as a character, is extremely well-written. The character development is very organic. Events throughout the game bring subtle changes to Max’s personality and approach. The dialogues, filled with Max’s sense of dark humor, are amazing. I especially enjoyed the line which Max says, “I had a hole in my second favorite drinking arm,” after taking a bullet in his left arm. The presentation compliments the character study very well. The largely varied soundtrack sets up the atmosphere. Cut scenes highlight snippets of important quotes by characters. For those who miss the comic-panel cut scenes, Rockstar has incorporated various freeze frame cinematic techniques. The cut scenes are rendered in real time using the game’s engine and they look absolutely gorgeous. As a result, the transition from cut scene to gameplay is very smooth (with no loading screens), and is a very nice touch for a plot-driven game.

As cinematic as it is, Max Payne 3 is still a video game at the end of the day. So, how does the gameplay fare? I am glad to report that the single player mode is still very “Max Payne” at heart. Run and gun is undoubtedly the way the game is intended to play. If you intend to duck behind a wall and blind fire until your bullets hit someone, then this is simply not the game for you.

To discourage players from hiding behind covers, Rockstar has brought back the health pack system. Well, it’s a Max Payne game after all, so instead of calling health packs first aid kits, we call them painkillers. More importantly, the health regen we’re so used to is almost non-existent. Your health will only regen by a bit if you’re on the verge of dying.

In addition to the old school health system, the maps are large and are designed for flanks, which your foes are more than happy to do. Some of your enemies will lay down cover fire while the rest will charge at you. As you can see here, the AI is fairly smart. They aim with surgical precision, making the game that much harder. This is also the very reason why bullet time is so important in this game, as it gives you more time to aim. The bullet time bar depletes at a significantly higher rate on higher levels of difficulty, further amping up the challenge. Slow-mo shootdodging is still somehow possible when the bullet time bar is empty. You wouldn’t want to use shootdodging unless in desperate circumstances since it takes a while for Max to get back up on his feet after performing the move, deeming you a sitting duck at this point. Even though you may still fire your weapons at any direction in prone position, it is still a significant disadvantage. Should the player run out of health with at least one painkiller in possession, the screen will go into slow motion, giving the player a chance to take down the enemy who fired the fatal shot. If the player succeeds, Max will be revived.

For people who are not used to a run-and-gun styled gameplay, the game provides three aiming options. The hard lock would aid the player by snapping on targets automatically; the soft lock would only snap on the target closest to the reticule once the player aims down the sight; the free aim, as its title suggests, will give you no aid whatsoever. I went through the game with free aim and have come to conclude that it is the most satisfying of the three options.

Like any typical Rockstar game, there are various collectibles hidden throughout each level for players to find. These collectibles come in the form of clues and golden gun parts. Clues give players a better understanding of the story and Max’s past. Golden gun parts grant players larger clip size. Each firearm contains 3 golden parts. Once the player has managed to find all 3, he/she can enjoy the benefit of a larger clip for that particular weapon. The weapon will become gold-tinted as well.

Other than the story mode, the game also features a couple of arcade modes. In Score Attack, your primary goal is to gain points by finding ways to kill your enemies as stylishly as you can. The fan favorite New York Minute is also back, in which you start out with one minute on the timer, and time is added as you kill more and more. Personally, I have no interest in the arcade modes whatsoever, since they play out the exact same scenarios in the game and offer up little differences.

Presentation wise, the game is phenomenal. The graphics look fantastic, and the RAGE engine combined with Euphoria, as usual, feels realistic. It is particularly noteworthy that each bullet is individually rendered. Bullets whizzing all over the place in bullet time is absolutely a thing of beauty. When you manage to finish off the final bad guy in the area, a bullet cam is triggered, which follows the bullet on its path to take the life away from its victim in slow mo. At this point, the player is welcomed to pump an excessive amount of rounds on the poor fella as he drops to the ground. Wounds are created on bodies, and enemies react according to the spot of bullet entry. If you hit an enemy standing on top of a building in the knee, he might lose balance and fall off the building to his impending demise. Headshots have never been more satisfying, as you watch their lifeless bodies thud to the ground.

Last but not least, there is the multiplayer. Multiplayer is insanely fun *ahem* unlike the *ahem* forced co-op in *ahem * Mass Effect 3 … *ahem*. Players are allowed to customize their avatars, by designing their looks and picking their equipments, as well as forming crews (which would carry on to other Rockstar titles). Each player is also allowed to select a nice variety of bursts, which are essentially perks. Before you ask, yes, the ability to activate bullet time is one of the many bursts. There are also some nice little touches to spice things up, such as declaring vendetta on a certain player. Players are also given options of playing with free aim or soft lock, and would only go up against those with the same settings.

In addition to the standard deathmatch options, the game also includes two unique ones. They are Payne Killer and Gang Wars respectively. Instead of explaining it myself, I’ll let the video do the talking.

There are times when you respawn into the middle of a firefight, which can get really annoying. However, they can be overlooked given the overall level of fun provided by the game modes.

Max Payne 3 is an incredibly ambitious project. Rockstar Games stepped out of their comfort zone into an area they have never explored, and genuinely attempted to revitalize a subgenre of shooting games. Their innovations, while not particularly groundbreaking or trend-setting, are exceptional in today’s predictable video gaming industry. Bottom line, Rockstar Games did set another high bar in terms of technological achievement for video gaming, and Max Payne 3 does provide a fresh, different experience compared to other shooting games. For those reasons, Rockstar Games deserves a whole lot of credit, and our money.

Full-Length ‘Take Earth Back’ Trailer for Mass Effect 3

There are fourteen days left until the Reapers reach Earth in Mass Effect 3. Are you ready? If you were watching The Walking Dead last week you might think you are; Bioware dropped a gorgeous pre-rendered teaser for the game during the show, but that wasn’t the whole picture. The 2-minute trailer that aired on AMC was a condensed version of the real deal; the extended trailer boasts a full extra minute of footage that rounds out the clip and packs on the adrenaline, even incorporating some of the stuff shown in ME3‘s first teaser way back in 2011:

I am shaking with anticipation for this game to come out, so watching this gave me goosebumps. That being said, this is the third version of the same trailer. Before AMC aired its edited version of the above cinematic trailer, a 58-second long  ‘trailer preview‘ was making its rounds on the internet. I’m a little baffled by that decision – they made a teaser for a preview of a trailer for a video game. I’m sure the idea was to generate a steady build of excitement, but I feel like all it did was take away the novelty, because with each subsequent trailer, a large fraction of it was already old news. When I add to that the fact that the trailer’s pre-rendered and therefore offers nothing relevant about the actual game, it gets a little ridiculous.

But I’m looking too deeply at this. The bottom line is, this trailer is fantastic and if it can drum up some excitement and bring more people into the series I’ll be a very happy FemShep.

This is happy, right?

South Park RPG in the Works for 2012

Comedy Central’s golden-boy franchise South Park has dipped its toes in the video game pool a few times before, but always on the fringe of things, and never with good results. The demographic overlap of gamers and South Park fans has got to be pretty huge, so it’s kind of sad that all that’s come out of the match-made-in-heaven crossover so far is a steaming pile of shovel-ware.

The South Park video game experience, to date

Hopefully all that disappointment will be a thing of the past, because Gamma Squad reports the show’s co-creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker are working with THQ and Obsidian on a brand new game, scheduled for a 2012 release on PC, XBOX 360 and the PS3. This will be the first time Stone and Parker, who’ll be writing, voicing and overseeing the production, have actually participated in the development of one of their games, which is a good sign that the quality might finally be up to snuff. Continue reading South Park RPG in the Works for 2012

Grizzly Game Review: Dark Souls

Japanese publisher From Software were responsible for dozens of broken controllers in 2009 with their release of Demon’s Souls, an action-adventure RPG that became notorious for its unforgiving difficulty. The game enjoyed a niche success for the few thousand sadists willing to dip into the devilish game-world, and suffer frequent trips to the Game Over screen. It became somewhat of a critical darling for its unique gameplay and the innovations it made to online play.

This year From Software released Dark Souls, an indirect sequel that promises more of the same nightmarish game design, and for some reason after playing Demon’s Souls (A game I own and have been stuck on for two years), I said “Yes, I’d love to be reduced to tears by a videogame! Direct me to your nearest store, good sir,” and bought a copy. Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results – I’ll check myself in after this review.

Dark Souls begins with an equally gorgeous and vague cinematic that forms the basis of the game’s lore and history; dragons and powerful beings at war for power, the birth of fire and the rise of humanity. It is revealed that you are one of many humans branded with the ‘darksign’, a symbol marking you as an immortal undead, damned for all eternity to rot in an asylum until ‘hollow’.

You begin the game by escaping your prison, at which point you are chosen to travel to Lordran, Land of Lords, to ring the bells of awakening and remove the darksign. There’s little in the way of exposition – in many ways the story is as indifferent to handholding as the combat, but that’s the point – Like the gameplay, Dark Souls’s story expands and unfolds through exploration and interaction, found in small tidbits such as NPC dialogue and item descriptions, so the more you see and play around with, the more there is to learn and do. This philosophy is what drives the experience of Dark Souls and while it can be immeasurably hard to penetrate and endure, the reward for succeeding is a sense of achievement that you will not find anywhere else in a video game.

The majority of Dark Souls’s design carries over from its predecessor. Like Demon’s Souls you create a character by specifying your desired class (Mage, warrior, thief, etc.), although this time there are a few more levels and specifications to apply which can affect your play, such as starting gifts which can boost certain stats or open elements of the game-world earlier on. While it’s a good idea to select a class that reflects your play-style, Dark Souls never completely punishes you for your choices; if you select a class with low magic stats for example, certain magic attacks or NPC interactions may initially be cut off, but if you’re willing to grind and build your stats you’ll eventually gain access to whatever you desire. In this way, I managed to build a melee-focused Wanderer class who was also quite adept at pyromancy.

Once you’ve given your character life (Or the game’s nearly-hollow equivalent) it’s time to go out and slay some demons. In keeping with Demon’s Souls’s established system, souls are your experience points and currency. Killing enemies rewards you with their souls and the more powerful the demon, the larger the purse. By successfully surviving for longer and longer you’re able to afford more powerful weapons, armor and spells, as well as boost your own statistics. It’s a true-RPG format that forces you to decide where those souls should be applied. A strong weapon is only useful in the hands of a strong enough wielder, so you have to think hard about when to purchase what item.

Making each soul even more precious is the fact that whenever you die, your souls are depleted, you’re returned to a spawn-point and all the enemies you’ve defeated (Bosses excluded) are brought back to life. Your ‘lost power’ is left where you died and you have one chance to reclaim it – you die before then, and it’s gone forever. This is the mechanic that can drive the player insane: Impatience, distraction or a misplaced attack can lose you hours of work. I have slain several bosses in one run only to be stabbed in the back by a generic weak enemy, losing me thousands of souls.

So sure, be careful. You’ve played a video game before, you know the deal. The risk-reward system doesn’t sound too evil until you experience Dark Souls’s difficulty. Mid-way through the tutorial level you’re faced with an enormous boss you have no business fighting that sets the tone for what you’ll have to face throughout the game. His attacks are devastating and a huge change of pace from the easily defeated undead warriors you’ve faced up to this point. It takes a bit of trial-and error to discover the proper way forward, and eventually how to exploit his weakness.

This is how every new enemy is taken care of. It’s a different pattern of blocking, dodging and attacking for each foe you encounter, and several hours in you’ve already mapped the combat tactics for dozens of enemies. The first time a new monster one-hits you it feels like a cheap and impossible attack to overcome but with patience and a level-head you learn its tells and the maneuvering necessary to take it down. The suffering you’re forced to undergo doesn’t seem worth it until you feel the elation of killing a demon three times your size. It’s a satisfaction earned entirely from your own skill and strategy, none of it simulated by gimmicks like quick-time events or restricted by contextual set-piece moments.

The last main aspect carried over from Demon’s Souls is the online system which introduced an entirely new way to interact with other players. For the most part, there’s no direct contact at all with other people playing the game, although every now and then you’ll see the ethereal silhouette of another player moving through the landscape. They can’t be interacted with, but there are several ways they can affect your experience. Most notably, there is a system in place to leave basic messages on the ground for other players to read, which can be helpful or detrimental depending how sincere the message is. Some will advise against tough enemies ahead or reveal their weaknesses, while others will encourage you to jump to your death. How much you follow the advice of other players is up to you.

Additionally you will sometimes find bloodstains of fallen players on the ground, which you can touch to replay their last moments before death. It can serve as a warning for players entering a new environment. There are also several ways to trigger ‘invasions’ where you can battle other players for their souls, as well as summon other players to help you fight for a time, but it’s possible to avoid this altogether if you prefer to play solo. In Dark Souls you’ll have a few more subtle elements that incorporate online play which deepen the sense of camaraderie, like the stony remains of a cursed player or the ringing of a bell signifying a nearby boss has been defeated by a fellow player. Small incidences like this help to richen what could otherwise feel like a lonely endeavor.

Dark Souls’s biggest departure from its precursor is its lack of a hub-world between levels. While Demon’s Souls was composed of 5 large ‘levels’ linked by a safe, nuclear base of operations, the sequel boasts an entirely open and interlinking world comprised of a myriad of different environments. While many of these are available right from the beginning and you are free to tackle each area in any order, there is a general route to follow in which the enemies will scale gradually in difficulty – Stray from this path and you’ll likely find yourself smashed to pieces by a demon far above your capabilities. Finding this route can be a painful lesson in experimentation, but coming back to cut apart an old nemesis when you’ve eventually built the strength to do so is a powerful feeling.

Safe zones are few and far between, but you will be able to rest and upgrade your character at bonfires you’ll find scattered throughout the land. By lighting them you can sit by the flame and fix up and alter your player in all sorts of ways, depending on purchases and upgrades you apply to the fires. The bonfire element is probably Dark Souls’s biggest refinement to the franchise in that it allows the player to progress more efficiently and with less travel back and forth. It also means load times are almost non-existent once you’re in.

From Software have done a fantastic job of expanding on the medieval and mythical influences they drew upon in the first game. Dark Souls oozes with atmosphere and history, not only in the beautiful landscapes which showcase everything from crumbling ancient castles to gloomy, dense forests but even in grotesque and inspired monster designs that could give Guillermo Del Toro a run for his money. There are some frame-rate issues which can almost bring the game to a stand-still, and ragdoll physics that can either be taken as hilarious or incredibly annoying, and these are issues that can really bring down the otherwise amazing presentation. Besides that, you’d be hard-pressed to find another game that can boast an equally deep, immersive world.

It’s hard to advocate Dark Souls as a must-play because it’s such a polarizing game. There is such a high learning curve, and the gameplay is so unforgiving that it’s just too hard to break into for many people. If you’re really into games and you can handle the challenge, there are very few RPGs out there that can match Dark Souls’ refined combat system and action-adventure gameplay.

Take it from me, as I stand stuck for weeks on the final boss, ready to fly to Japan and murder-punch everyone at From Software: Dark Souls may be one of the best games you’ve ever played, and I hate it.

4/5 Bears. 

Grizzly Game Review: Rage

Way back in the early ‘90s, id Software essentially invented the first-person shooter when they released Wolfenstein 3D. They continued to dominate the genre they defined with Doom and Quake in the years following, which today are recognized as some of the most successful and important franchises in video game history. While all three of these IP’s have had all kinds of sequels and remakes in the years since their initial creation, id seemed to have retired more or less from the industry proper. That is until this year with the release of Rage.

Wolfenstein 3D

In the year 2029 a massive asteroid collides with Earth, wiping out the majority of life on the planet. The player wakes up in an ark, one of many cryogenic stasis chambers buried beneath the Earth as part of the Eden Project, an international attempt to preserve humanity’s existence after the Apophis asteroid’s impact. However the Eden Project was an apparent failure – you’re released from cryo to find the rest of your ark killed and much of the ark itself badly damaged. After making your way out into the wasteland, you discover a handful of small civilizations meekly carrying on. Between constant raids by bandits, swarms of attacking mutants and the oppressive Authority, the few good people in the wastes are left to survive or rebel, both lifestyles leaving little time for anything other than shooting, gambling and racing. You’re thrown into the push and pull of things, using a myriad of bullets and vehicles to blast your way through what’s left of Earth.

Without understanding it’s pedigree, Rage might not seem like it warrants the attention it’s getting. Particularly because the game’s been marketed with fairly tight lips there seems to be a lot of fuss over what seems to be just another post-apocalyptic monster-shooter. I was definitely a part of that mentality, even with the knowledge of id’s importance in the industry, and superficially at least, it’s a fair judgment. You probably won’t come away from the game remembering unique set-piece moments and caring much about the story itself, but what you will get is borderline addictive gameplay and, well, fun.

id can definitely use Rage as proof that history and reputation count for something; these guys understand gunplay like no one else, and boy do they make use of that knowledge. Right from the start you can feel the weight and power behind your pistol, and though there are a pretty modest set of firearms you get to play with, there are enough ammo types and weapon classes to keep things varied and interesting. Every weapon has its benefits and detriments and you learn quickly what works on each enemy type. Lots of shooters can boast far more weapons to pick up and use, but it usually just means finding the most powerful one and using it forever. Rage isn’t satisfied with that. For the first time in recent memory, I found myself ducked behind a wall thinking strategy in an FPS game: “Okay, my assault rifle isn’t working, and they won’t get close enough for my shotgun. I have 12 explosive bolts left in my crossbow, but Ghost bandits are too evasive for my accuracy.” Solution? Pop some fatboys in the chamber and blow them away with my pistol.

This leads into my second point. The AI in Rage is fantastic. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an NPC actually dodge bullets before. I mean, many games have had enemies that will duck, roll or hide behind walls, but never contextually to my actions. Different types of enemy have their own unique behaviour – certain bandits will rush and throw mid-range weapons before slashing at you with axes and blades, mutants will climb and jump around your bullets, and heavily armoured Authority soldiers will use cover and grenades to try to draw you out of safety. There are even occasions where I’ve nearly cleared out a room and the last two bandits will shout ‘He’s kicking our ass! Fall back!” and run back to the next room. It really feels like the AI reacts organically to you, and whenever it seems that you’re actively affecting the game world around you the game is doing its job.

The game is set up in a sort of faux-RPG format. The world is essentially open, and missions are doled out through optional jobs chosen through conversing with NPC’s in hub worlds. Most of these jobs involve traveling by buggy through the wasteland to one of the many faction territories that function as ‘levels’ in the game. Here is where you’ll find the majority of enemies to shoot and explode. Accompanying the ‘RPG-lite’ mission format is an equally simplistic RPG system for upgrading your equipment. Throughout the game world you’ll pick up and purchase recipes and schematics that allow you to build more advanced tools that’ll help you throughout the campaign. The most popular and easily the coolest of your kit is the ‘wingstick’, a bladed boomerang that does heavy damage and can even return to you if thrown properly. Working out the bullet, evade, wingstick rhythm is a joy, and it’s probably the most satisfying weapon in your arsenal. The little RPG elements benefit the game by deepening the gameplay just a few inches more. It’s just a taste, but it’s enough.

Finally there are mini-games to play in each of the small hubs that include gambling your money on 5-finger fillet, a simple chance game called ‘Tombstone’ and a collectible card game similar to Magic: The Gathering. On top of this is the more campaign-relevant racing circuits you’ll need to participate in to upgrade and unlock your vehicles. The cars all feel clunky and handle wildly at first, but before long you’ll be breezily boosting and shooting your way around corners relatively easily. The racing is barely more than another distraction that helps vary the gameplay and keeps the gunplay from getting stale, but it works and can be a blast.

Rage can be a really pretty game most of the time. It features wide, varying landscapes and beautiful lighting. Up close the details start to blend and look a little muddy, and (at least on PS3) the game is constantly popping in layers of detail every time you move the camera, but truthfully you spend so much of the game in a frenzy of movement and bullets that these issues are pretty hard to notice when you’re actually involved in the game world. It also helps that characters move and speak with relative liveliness, thanks to less rigid dialogue animation and some quality voice-acting. Add to this the sheer size of the damn thing (Rage comes with three discs on the Xbox 360) and minor graphical problems are easy to overlook in exchange for the length of gameplay you get out of it.

If you’re exhausted by the amount of similar-looking FPS games that seem to come out every month, Rage is probably not on your wish list. In that respect, you might not want to go the $60 route. That being said, you may be surprised to discover how much you’ve been missing real entertainment in a shooter. The story is a tad conventional and truthfully, doesn’t really go anywhere and ends quite suddenly, but this is a rare occasion where it doesn’t matter. Rage is just that fun to play.

3.5/5 Bears

Here is something extra for all our Breaking Bad fans….

X-Men: Destiny – Behind-the-Scenes Trailer and Cover Art

Heading to living rooms soon is the somewhat anticipated X-Men: Destiny. While I do look forward to this game, I won’t be lining up for it or anything. Don’t get me wrong, I love the premise and the gameplay looks adequate. But usually when I play an X-Men game I want to play as an X-Man(or Woman). I may be a little picky here, so let’s just say I will be picking it up when it comes out, but my expectations aren’t huge.

Continue reading X-Men: Destiny – Behind-the-Scenes Trailer and Cover Art