Thief — 3Q2014 issue

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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

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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,

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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

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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

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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

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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.