Tag Archives: 3Q2014

Thief — 3Q2014

Photos courtesy of Shacknews.com
Photos courtesy of Shacknews.com

It takes a thief

by William Harrison
by William Harrison

You know, once in a while, a game comes along that is just full of fun stuff and guilty 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 Thief-05making 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.

Score-4The 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

NBA Jam-02The old king of the court

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

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, 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 NBA Jam-17experience. 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.”

Score-4-retrogradeThe 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

SSX Tricky-02Grab your gear and hit the slopes

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

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 SSX Tricky-19modes, 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 Score-4-5-retrogradeconvey. 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

Photos courtesy of Shacknews.com
Photos courtesy of Shacknews.com

Keep calm and prepare for Titanfall

by William Harrison
by William Harrison

Hello, pilots and welcome to the Frontier. The long-anticipated Titanfall is up for review 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 Titanfall-01currently 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.

Score-4-5There 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

Excitebike-02Nothing to get excited over

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

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 Excitebike-14simple 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.

Score-2-5-retrogradeAnd 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.