Thief — 3Q2014 issue

Pho­to cour­tesy of

It takes a thief

You know, once in a while, a game comes along that is just full of fun stuff and guilty

William Har­ri­son, GI con­tribut­ing editor

plea­sures that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Ladies and gen­tle­men, this is that game. Thief is a game that when I first heard about the orig­i­nal — way back when it was only avail­able for PC — I thought it was one of those games I would have liked to play but didn’t think it would be fun. Man, was I ever wrong.

Thief places you in the role of mas­ter thief Gar­rett as he works his way through a city run by a greedy and blood­thirsty Baron and his guard known as the WATCH. Use the shad­ows to your advan­tage and tru­ly make what is theirs … yours.

Eidos/Montreal and Square ENIX put forth a great effort in mak­ing this game a real­i­ty and bring­ing it to home sys­tems. Thief is actu­al­ly the fourth incar­na­tion of the series, set dur­ing the time peri­od around the same time as the Black Plague, I think; they don’t real­ly tell you when it’s set or where it is rel­e­vant to any time peri­od. I only say dur­ing the time of the Black Plague because of the dis­ease that runs ram­pant called the gloom, which is a lot like it.

The stealth game­play is the main rea­son why I’m a huge fan of this game. I like the fact that it’s a major part of the game and there is an achieve­ment for mak­ing it through the game unseen. There is the rat­ing sys­tem where I seem to always strad­dle the line between ghost and oppor­tunist in my quest to see if I’m still as sneaky in stealth games as I claim to be.

As of press time, I haven’t fin­ished Thief but the sto­ry and the free roam­ing aspect are awe­some. At times, I wan­der from the sto­ry to explore, roam aim­less­ly and rob peo­ple blind just like in real life.

The city and the char­ac­ters are beau­ti­ful­ly designed and ren­dered but it seems to be miss­ing some­thing. The music — as far as atmos­phere goes — is OK but it seems that you can’t real­ly hear it. And, a lot of times the inter­ac­tions between char­ac­ters is almost a joke because you can some­times bare­ly hear what a NPC or your­self are say­ing. Appar­ent­ly, sub­ti­tles are a bit of a must to catch every­thing being said.

I’m not quite sure how the old Gar­rett match­es up to the new Gar­rett since I haven’t played the PC titles but hope­ful­ly it’s not too far off. I real­ly do enjoy this game, but it seems that it isn’t real­ly all that long, at least not when you get into the sto­ry-spe­cif­ic mis­sions. There is still a free roam ele­ment there but there are also points where you can’t go back and that seems like it’s pun­ish­ing the play­er and slap­ping you say­ing, “You want to explore?! NOW!? The fate of the world is at stake!!”

Thief is a real­ly good stealth, make-you-feel-guilty-in-a-good-way sort of game and should def­i­nite­ly be played by all. The fact that it’s the fourth game but also a reboot of the series is fine, but the fans of the old­er games may have a prob­lem with the dif­fer­ences. Sound issues aside, this is a hell of a steal.

NBA Jam — 3Q2014 issue

Pho­to cour­tesy of

The old king of the court

NBA Jam was — and still is — an expe­ri­ence. No, that’s not some pre­pos­ter­ous fluff dreamed up by an Nation­al Bas­ket­ball Asso­ci­a­tion maven like yours tru­ly. It was tru­ly an expe­ri­ence because if you were around at the time that Jam hit the streets, you’d remem­ber the sheer amount of hype that sur­round­ed the arcade release. You’d also remem­ber the hype that came home with it. Was it jus­ti­fied hype? Yes and no.

You see, Jam rep­re­sent­ed the start of the exag­ger­at­ed sports game era, the type of game where the play­er ani­ma­tions were over the top and the action just as extreme. Throw in a pletho­ra of secrets — like play­ing as Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton — and the hype went into over­drive. The game isn’t bad and it most­ly lived up to its billing. The sim­ple set­up of two-on-two bas­ket­ball and fast-break bas­ket­ball helped cer­tain­ly, and the ani­ma­tion isn’t bad at all. The play­er inter­ac­tion is where it most­ly suc­ceeds, actu­al­ly. At the time,

Pho­to cour­tesy of

there was no oth­er place to get the kind of play that Jam offers: Crazy dunks, the abil­i­ty to be on fire from great shoot­ing and street ball-type rules. It’s that offer­ing that made it a phe­nom­e­nal success.

Jam does­n’t stum­ble in its race to be an in-your-face baller expe­ri­ence. That street ball play­er inter­ac­tion means you don’t have to learn much about the game to suc­ceed and play well. The con­trol is sim­ple yet has a lay­er of depth that means any­one can do well at any skill lev­el. The atmos­phere could be a lit­tle bet­ter with a bet­ter sound­track, but what will make you take notice is the announc­er. If there’s any­thing you will remem­ber about the game, it’s Tim Kitzrow shout­ing to the top of his lungs that a man is “on fire” or “BOOMSHAKALAKA.”

The graph­ics, like the sound­track, are noth­ing to get excit­ed about. There’s a sta­t­ic crowd except for the court­side folk, and then there’s the play­ers. Jam pop­u­lar­ized the over-exag­ger­at­ed look for play­ers, and it cer­tain­ly had its uses. It’s not out of place for Jam, and it brings a cer­tain atmos­phere to the action that Jam ben­e­fits from.

If there’s ever a rea­son to play NBA Jam, find it in the car­toon­ish action, sound and look. That’s where the fun is, and the main rea­sons why the game suc­ceed­ed in liv­ing up to the hype (most­ly) that broke back­boards in the old­en days of 1993.

SSX Tricky — 3Q2014 issue

Pho­tos cour­tesy of

Grab your gear and hit the slopes

SSX can get a lit­tle … well … Tricky. OK, yes, I went for the easy joke, but it’s one that can be made with a sol­id title in SSX Tricky. Tricky tends to take the best things about the SSX fran­chise and make them bet­ter. And that’s bet­ter for every­one because snow­board­ing games of the time weren’t exact­ly fresh­ly pow­dered experiences.

Tricky set­tles into its role as a snow­board­ing sim­u­la­tor with slick visu­als and an added bonus of inter­est­ing char­ac­ters. The eas­i­est way to describe play­ing Tricky is that it’s you ver­sus the moun­tain, and well, some­times you ver­sus the oth­er char­ac­ters ver­sus the moun­tain. While the World Cir­cuit mode is tout­ed as a main attrac­tion — and it is cer­tain­ly is for sev­er­al rea­sons — the mode that does the most for me is Free Ride. There’s noth­ing quite like run­ning down the tracks and pulling off tricks with­out oth­er char­ac­ters to annoy you. The char­ac­ters aren’t real­ly that annoy­ing, and the rival­ry sys­tem is fun, but I pre­ferred my soli­tude while learn­ing the game and Prac­tice and Free Ride pro­vid­ed that easily.

Those slick visu­als are also on dis­play through­out the dif­fer­ent modes, and it imme­di­ate­ly sets the game apart from its com­pe­ti­tion of the time. The game flat-out looks great on the Game­Cube, and the oth­er con­sole ver­sions looked great, too. The Game­Cube ver­sion has an inter­est­ing con­trol scheme that lends itself to rolling down the slopes, and it’s intu­itive and becomes sec­ond nature as you become more com­fort­able pulling off var­i­ous tricks. For that increas­ing lev­el of com­fort, you are reward­ed with big­ger and bet­ter items that should help you improve as well as make you look a lit­tle bet­ter on the track. It’s that dri­ve to unlock these good­ies and tracks that keeps you com­ing back to Tricky.

That’s all along­side the sound­track, which is excel­lent, too. There are a few vocal pieces with the instru­men­tal tracks for the dif­fer­ent lev­els, and all are appro­pri­ate for the atmos­phere EA wants to con­vey. In par­tic­u­lar, the remix of Run DMC’s mas­sive hit “Tricky” is the high­light — as it should be. If it’s the main theme of the game, it should stand out, which it man­ages to do so. It nev­er gets old to hear the trio’s 1986 hit sam­pled and remixed (editor’s note: ’80s rap nev­er gets old, in any sit­u­a­tion) while throw­ing down mas­sive tricks on a treach­er­ous moun­tain. And, believe it or not, the voice act­ing adds to the game as well. Usu­al­ly, a ful­ly famous all-star cast of voice actors pro­duces mixed results. How­ev­er, Tricky is an excep­tion to that rule. Folks like Lucy Liu, Oliv­er Platt, Patri­cia Velasquez and Bil­ly Zane deliv­er sol­id results.

With three oth­er sequels and a reboot in 2012, Tricky has had the chal­lenge of stand­ing out in a crowd­ed library of titles fea­tur­ing snow­board­ing. But it’s not that hard to do when it’s got good mechan­ics and great atmos­phere, a rather tricky feat to accomplish.

Titanfall — 3Q2014 issue

Photos courtesy of

Pho­tos cour­tesy of

Pho­tos cour­tesy of

Keep calm and pre­pare for Titanfall

Hel­lo, pilots and wel­come to the Fron­tier. The long-antic­i­pat­ed Titan­fall is up for review

William Har­ri­son, GI con­tribut­ing editor

and let me tell you, I had a lot of fun with this one and so will you. It posts a few unique inno­va­tions as well as an online only style all of its own. And, of course, giant robots … every­thing is bet­ter with giant robots. The cam­paign mode is weird at first but it’s noth­ing that can’t be handled.

Titan­fall takes place in the dis­tant future and in anoth­er col­o­nized area of space. Two war­ring fac­tions, the IMC and the Fron­tier Mili­tia, are fight­ing for con­trol of their lit­tle pieces of space and the place they call home. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the IMC seem to be look­ing to con­trol the area under the flag of Ham­mond Indus­tries, a galac­tic wide­spread com­pa­ny that has its hands in … well, pret­ty much every­thing. Then in comes the Fron­tier Mili­tia, who believe the peo­ple are bet­ter off with­out the watch­ful eye of the IMC and Ham­mond Indus­tries telling you what to do.

Titan­fall is a very impres­sive and beau­ti­ful­ly ren­dered game. It’s cur­rent­ly out for the Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC. I have it for Xbox One and it’s about the only first-per­son shoot­er that I cur­rent­ly play. The game­play is pret­ty much like Call of Duty, but that’s to be expect­ed when Infin­i­ty Ward closed its doors and reopened to a split in the com­pa­ny not called Respawn Enter­tain­ment and Sledgham­mer Games. Respawn Enter­tain­ment is pret­ty much made up of the devel­op­ers that made the COD series sto­ries and games what they were.

The addi­tion of the Titans (25- to 30-foot-tall robots) and the abil­i­ty to either pilot or have the AI con­trol it makes for a new num­ber of things that can be done. There is a cam­paign mode but it is mul­ti­play­er-based, mean­ing that the sto­ry is con­trolled by the out­come of the win­ning team in some mis­sions. It only allows for 6v6 (12v12, if you include hav­ing the AI-con­trolled Titans on the map as well) so that the games can remain as lag free as pos­si­ble. Don’t want to ride inside your own Titan, well hop out and switch your Titan to either guard or fol­low to help hold a posi­tion or for a lit­tle back­up. I must admit that I am rarely rid­ing inside my Titan when I play. They have a nice selec­tion of weapons for the pilots but only about six for the Titans them­selves, which is fine by me.

The mul­ti­play­er is done real­ly well, but right now there are only sev­en play modes, with the sev­enth as a mash-up vari­ety pack that con­sists of all play modes on all maps ran­dom­ly select­ing both. I believe the Xbox 360 ver­sion is miss­ing a mode or two.

Here is how I see it: Titan­fall is one of those games you hear about and think it would be awe­some if they can pull it off right. Respawn did their home­work and came up with a game that is fun and immer­sive. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, it kind of hin­dered itself by being online only, and although the down­load need­ed to play it on Xbox 360 isn’t as mas­sive as the GTAV down­load (1.3 GB ver­sus 7.9 GB), it’s still a bit annoy­ing. How­ev­er, you don’t have to delete data to play. A match­mak­ing option that puts you with peo­ple in the same skill lev­el would be a nice idea, too. If you haven’t played it, then you should def­i­nite­ly “Pre­pare for Titanfall.”

Excitebike — 3Q2014 issue

Pho­tos cour­tesy of

Noth­ing to get excit­ed over

Near­ly every­thing game indus­try leg­end Shigeru Miyamo­to touch­es turns to gold. The key­word there is near­ly. While it might be con­sid­ered blas­phe­mous in some cir­cles to ques­tion the god­like ten­den­cies of Miyamo­to-kamisama, there are some­times valid rea­sons strewn about his resume. Excite­bike is one of those excus­es to point to when some­one says that Miyamo­to is capa­ble of com­mit­ting no wrong in game design.

Excite­bike isn’t a ter­ri­ble game. In fact, it’s one of the bet­ter games to come out of the NES line­up. But that isn’t say­ing much in the long run. Excite­bike takes a sim­ple con­cept and makes a moun­tain out of a mole hill. So much so that if you have no idea how the game works, you’re not going to imme­di­ate­ly fig­ure it out just by rum­bling through a cou­ple of tracks. My per­son­al learn­ing curve stretched from age 8 to age 28, and it was only because I asked some­one about the nuances that I became a bet­ter player.

That’s the thing about Excite­bike, though: I get that it’s a real­ly sim­ple game. You, the dirt bike rid­er, are gift­ed and able to chal­lenge a mul­ti­tude of tracks. You aim for the high­est score, stay off the rough patch­es, use your boost to speed up and attempt to keep your bike lev­el with the course once you make big leaps. That’s the extent of the game. There’s a track edi­tor thrown in for good mea­sure and a sec­ond type of race that’s basi­cal­ly time tri­als. Sim­ple, right? Yes.

And frus­trat­ing. No one knows what I would have giv­en to know that press­ing A rapid­ly when you fall off your bike helps with recov­ery. I would have trad­ed my tiny king­dom in lit­tle old Colum­bia, S.C., to know that. It would have also helped to know that dri­ving over the arrows on the ground reduces bike tem­per­a­ture. Know­ing these two impor­tant pieces of infor­ma­tion might have made a dis­tinct dif­fer­ence in my con­tin­ued career of dirt bike rac­ing. But, alas, that dream went right out of the win­dow with my incli­na­tion to con­tin­ue rent­ing the cart back in the day.

If you want nos­tal­gia and you can appre­ci­ate being forced to learn the ins and outs of dirt bike rac­ing, by all means pop a wheel­ie in Excite­bike. But don’t be sur­prised with the unimag­i­na­tive locales, race lay­out and pen­chant for keep­ing you the play­er in the dark. Sim­ple con­cept? Check. Sim­ple con­trols? Check. Mario cameo? Triple check. But Shigeru Miyamo­to’s genius touch to make the game a bet­ter expe­ri­ence for the unini­ti­at­ed? Nope. That’s still sit­ting in the garage with my dri­ve to play the game as a frus­trat­ed 8‑year-old and now as a more dis­crim­i­nat­ing 32-year-old.