Categories
Tech Review

Jake Sapir: Starwars: Knights of the Old Republic game

Us gamers go by a code. Let’s call this a set of unspoken rules if you will. There is a certain etiquette to what we do and with this comes an understanding that certain behaviors just aren’t on. One of the top-ranking rules in this list is the spoiler rule. This goes for books, movies, and absolutely for games. Don’t tell people who haven’t played the game anything about the plot of the game, especially the end. This can basically be boiled down to, “don’t be a dick.” This, if you’re not a dick, will all be fairly self-explanatory. Now with this in mind and with a bit of trepidation we come to the third installment of QOTW. I clearly hate my own existence…

The question I’ve posed the TVGB crew this week is as to what their favorite videogame plot twists are. Before we go any further (because I like my knees), I’m posting a very big, very obvious disclaimer to this article. The next 10 entries will, without a doubt, contain spoilers that may ruin the game for those of you wanting to play that entry. If you really fancy any of the games on this list and don’t want to be let down, SKIP THE ENTRY AND MOVE ON. I do not want people looking for me or any of the others later. We know what we’re doing. It isn’t big and it isn’t clever, but for those of you that don’t care, it will be entertaining.

Right …with that little rant over, let’s get on with things, shall we? Without further ado … TVGB’s favorite plot twists in videogames.

Jake Sapir: Starwars: Knights of the Old Republic

Perhaps this is cliche, but my favorite plot twist in a game has to be the one in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. I know lately people have given this one flak for being obvious and dull but finding out that my character was really Darth Revan all along shocked me when I was a kid. Suddenly, this was a very different story, and I had important choices to make. It was very cool seeing how my various crewmates responded to the revelation; the characters respond the way you would expect each of them to, thanks to Bioware’s stunning writing back in the day. It made me feel like my choices from then on really mattered, not just for me and my crew, but for the entire galaxy. Whether you choose the Light or the Dark, your character becomes central to the conflict engulfing the galaxy, and that wouldn’t be nearly as exciting without this twist.

Emily Mullis: Final Fantasy X

My favorite plot twist, that actually blew my mind when I was a kid, was in Final Fantasy X when it is revealed Tidus is actually dead. I was so invested in him and Yuna my mind couldn’t comprehend what was actually happening. I believed there had to be some way for them to be together. But when the ending came and he started to disappear I thought, nope, this is it. All this for nothing.

I was pretty new to RPGs and big storyline games when I first started playing Final Fantasy X so I didn’t know what I was getting into. The experience of playing that game was life-changing. I mostly play RPGs now because of games like Final Fantasy X, I can’t get enough of good videogame storytelling. The stories are rich and plot twists are a possibility. Keeps you on your toes.

Jonathan Crawford: Super Mario RPG

My all-time favorite plot twist took place in Super Mario RPG for the SNES. The game starts off in what we think will be typical Mario fashion: Bowser kidnaps the princess. However, a new villain appears on the scene, kicking Bowser out of his own castle and turning the Mario story on its head! The real twist comes about halfway through the game when Mario comes across a sobbing and distraught Bowser. Bowser and Mario agree to work together against their common enemy! Technically, Bowser allows Mario to join the Koopa Troop. In any event, Bowser and Mario team up, and the most famous videogame villain of all time becomes a playable character! In recent years, a sillier side of Bowser has often been shown, but during the SNES era, he was still the saddest baddie on the planet, and joining forces with Mario was unheard of. I’m still holding out for the true sequel to this classic!

Peter Daubert: Bioshock Infinite

I was 16 when I played this game, I played the whole thing through, loving every single minute of its crisp shooting mechanics and invigorating story and setting. I became irrationally attached to Elizabeth, mostly due, I believe, to our shared fascination with out of reach worlds. I went on an absolutely incredible journey in this game and became intensely invested in freeing Elizabeth from the horrors of her tower and her captor, Comstock.

To find out I WAS Comstock, truly shattered me. The final scene of the game completely put me in a tailspin, and it made me question everything I had done all game long. It put everything in perspective, while simultaneously forcing me to act out the very thing I was so wanting to change. Sometimes I still think about how much I wish I could go back and play the whole thing again.

Alex Southgate: The Legacy of Kain/Soul Reaver series

I’ve mentioned this franchise in the past but I truly believe that if you’re talking about twists, this wonderful five-game series cannot be overlooked. There is no one twist in these games that stands out because there are so many little, cleverly written facets to the story that it’s full of surprises.

You have two separate stories and as such two separate protagonists in the Legacy of Kain series. Kain is a vampire who has to save the world of Nosgoth after its council, The Circle of Nine, become corrupt. The Council keeps the magical Pillars. Each pillar represents a fundamental aspect of existence, and as they break down, the world falls into darkness. The story starts with the murder of Ariel, the keeper of the Pillar of Balance. This sends her lover Nupraptor, the Guardian of the Mind, mad. As he is a powerful telepath, this madness seeps like poison into the rest of the council and everything goes to hell from there. You will find out it’s all planned. Kain is the new guardian of balance and he will have to make the ultimate choice to die with the others and set the world straight or take over. We can guess what happens. I suggest having a look here. That was confusing and rambling but this is a great little page that covers everything.

In the background, Moebius, Keeper of Time, hasn’t gone mad and is pulling the strings of everything and will be throughout all of the games. Raziel appears in Kain’s past, present, and future. As the protagonists of the Soul Reaver games, the two are both friends and sworn enemies depending on where in the plot you look. Everything finally comes together in Defiance, where you will play both characters who will have to put aside their differences once and for all.

This is supposed to be an entry, not an article, so one twist I really love is how Malek, the Guardian of Conflict, can’t protect an earlier council from a vampire attack, something that gets him turned into a haunted suit of armor. This is in the first game. You don’t see why though until the fifth game and it’s because he’s fighting Kain and Raziel and can’t get to the others in time.

Enough of my babbling. If you haven’t played this series and love a well-written, action-packed story, you must go out and find it. It’s well worth your time. To get the most out of them, you have to play all of the games in order or you’ll miss out on so many twists in the plot.

There you have it! I’ll be back next time with another question for the lads and lasses on the team. Until then, go out and play some of the entries above. I don’t think we’ve ruined too much for you. Remember, no angry mobs, please. You were warned in advance.

Categories
News

Hasbro Unveils The Next Batch Of Star Wars Collectibles

May 4 is right around the corner, and that’s a big deal for Star Wars fans. May 4 is “May the 4th be with you,” and it usually means we get new Star Wars merchandise to buy and perhaps even a sneak peek at what is coming next for Star Wars movies and television series. Hasbro jumped the gun a little today with new Star Wars reveals falling into what it is calling “Fan First Friday.”

The reveals include new figures for the Black Series and Vintage Collection, along with a fantastic Boba Fett prototype helmet. If you are fan of Hasbro’s throwback design for the 40th anniversary Empire Strikes Back figures, many more are on the way. For the Black Series, Hasbro announced new 40th anniversary versions of 4-LOM, Zuckuss, and Han Solo in Carbonite. Hasbro is also releasing a Black Series two-pack of Luke and Yoda, a “carbonized” version of Darth Vader, a new Clone Trooper, and a Stormtrooper inspired by The Mandalorian.

If you like the smaller 3.75-inch line, Hasbro is issuing a new version of Luke Skywalker in Stormtrooper armor for its Vintage Collection. If you are looking for something a little different, yet another Star Wars version of Monopoly is on the way, this one is called “The Child Edition,” and yes, it’s all about Baby Yoda. Most of these toys will be hitting in the summer and fall. You can see all of them below:

Categories
Review

moving-out-review-packed-with-frustration

If you’ve moved (or helped people move) at any point during the past few decades, odds are you’ve heard someone make a joke about their Tetris skills paying off. There’s something satisfying about finding the perfect spot for a box or arranging things to fit into what seems like an impossibly small space. That sensation is part of what Moving Out promises; as a member of a furniture moving company, you and up to three co-op buddies are tasked with filling up the truck as quickly and efficiently as possible. Moves get more complicated and sillier over time, but ghosts, flamethrowers, and rising pools of guava juice prove to be far from the biggest obstacles to success.

You begin your career as a certified Furniture Arrangement and Relocation Technician with fairly mundane jobs. The first few homes allow you to get the hang of the basics, which include surveying the area for the objects you’re required to load into the truck and sizing up the trickier parts of each move. It might be tempting to grab the nearest boxes and lob them into the truck, but those smaller objects can quickly add up. Before you know it, it’s time to put a sectional couch inside and you don’t have any room. But first, you need to maneuver that couch through narrow hallways, around obstacles, and potentially out the front window.

It’s possible to schlep all this stuff around as a solo player, but that’s an option of last resort. You don’t have any A.I. companions, so you’re stuck dragging heavier objects around without the option of performing a handy co-op “heave ho” toss with a partner. That move is incredibly useful for making the most of the limited truck space, since objects like beds and tables can be stacked if you put enough of your back into it. Bringing a friend along for the ride via local co-op makes some aspects of the game much easier, but it comes with a warning: If you aren’t a patient person, or you’re prone to getting frustrated or lashing out at other people, avoid this game. I’m only kind of joking.

Even the early moves seem designed to be as maddening as possible. Doorways are just barely wide enough to accommodate larger pieces of furniture, making them a tight squeeze in ideal circumstances. Moving Out takes clear cues from Overcooked, but it adds a significant wrinkle: wacky physics. Overcooked is great because a group can fail, evaluate where they went wrong, and regroup with a better strategy in mind. Moving Out has that element of strategizing – such as figuring out what objects the team needs to move and how to prioritize those mini tasks – but success is unpredictable. Maybe you’ll get hung up on an invisible barrier around a doorway. Perhaps your throw will land weirdly short, dropping a fragile package in the pool. There doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason for a lot of these goofs; even if you’re able to clearly call out what the team needs to do next, performing what should be simple actions feels like you’re rolling the dice.

As frustrating as it can be, I found myself drawn to a few standout levels. I enjoyed a Frogger-inspired section in particular, where the movers have to cross a busy street before making their way across logs and alligators. Some later levels, where players have to communicate and work out which switch-controlled doors to open and when, are similarly amusing. Players who find themselves getting into the game can look forward to completing secret objectives like breaking all the windows in a house or not stepping on rakes in a yard. These allow you to access arcade-style levels, which feature more abstract platforming/moving challenges. They’re good for a quick burst of fun, but I never felt compelled to stick around to set high scores.

Moving Out has a charming sense of humor and the developers clearly went out of their way to make the game as accessible as possible. You can adjust the difficulty in an impressively granular way, checking individual boxes to tweak the time you have to complete goals, make objects lighter, remove some obstacles, and more. That does make it easier to zoom past some of the trickier levels, but it doesn’t ultimately change the fact that moving furniture in the game is as fun as the real deal.

Categories
Board Game Review

Gears Tactics gets the turn-based fundamentals right, but isn’t consistently fun

Gears of War games are at their best when players are pushing forward, chewing through the Locust horde with chainsaw bayonets. The same is true for Gears Tactics, the franchise’s first-ever turn-based strategy game.

But the moment that developer Splash Damage asks players to stand still — whether it’s for a drawn-out boss battle, a defensive mission, or simply to peruse the menu system — the illusion falls apart.

Gears Tactics lacks the pacing that makes the iconic third-person shooters so much fun to play, and it’s weighed down by a reliance on stunt missions that detract from its otherwise solid fundamentals.

A VERY DIFFERENT GAMEPLAY LOOP

A locust leader holds a COG soldier by the throat near the end of act one of Gears TacticsImage: Splash Damage, The Coalition/Xbox Game Studios

Gears Tactics is played from an overhead perspective, with Coalition of Ordered Government, or COG, soldiers and the evil Locust forces each taking their turns before moving to the next round of play. Things bounce back and forth until one side is eliminated, or until that particular mission’s objectives are met.

Gears Tactics might look like a clever clone of Firaxis’ XCOM games, but it’s something else entirely. There’s no grid that provides strict rules for how units can move, so the game actually has more in common with miniatures-based wargames and skirmish systems like Bolt Action, Infinity, and Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team.

That subtle difference gives Gears Tactics the fluidity of movement — referred to as “horizontal platforming” by its developers — that drives the Gears franchise. Units snap into cover, use attacks of opportunity on passing enemies, and generally flit around the board in a very Gearsian way.

An early mission in Gears Tactics asks players to defend a group of civilians on a broken down emulsion mining rig. Here a team of four COGs makes a desperate last stand, back to back outside the rig.

The same can be said of the game’s endless stream of equipment, offered in the form of weapon mods and bits of armor. I stopped getting excited with pickups a few hours in, mainly because another 5% here or there doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. The opening hours were a bit dire, in fact, with gear that didn’t get me excited to try it out and soldiers that all pretty much felt the same.

But then I started to understand what the game needs from me to come to life. Gears Tactics relies on a nested series of buffs to generate additional actions during the player turn and to give the action some momentum. If you do something cool during your turn, you will be rewarded for it, and that reward will keep your soldiers fighting.

I STARTED TO UNDERSTAND WHAT THE GAME NEEDS FROM ME TO COME TO LIFE.

Pinion a Locust on your old-school bayonet? Take another shot. Nail a sniper shot at long range? Reload your weapon and take a few more shots. Execute a downed enemy? Everyone on your side gets another action. You can run roughshod over the enemy by chaining your successful attacks together, even against impossible odds. Toss in some deft work with a hand grenade or two and it’s mission accomplished. Learning how to keep things rolling so the enemy barely has a chance to respond feels good, and brings the game the weighty feeling of power and capacity for violence that made the originals so satisfying.

Gears Tactics holds up the standards of the franchise for visual quality, as well. Cutscenes were indistinguishable to my eye from those in Gears 5, as were some of the animations. Every map includes a fully rotatable camera, and the lighting and the textures are all top-notch. In fact, this is the only turn-based tactics game that I’ve ever played that comes with its own benchmarking system.

BEHIND THE CURTAIN

A player lines up a lancer run on an unsuspecting locust drone. A blue track, like a ruler, extends from the friendly unit towards the targeted enemy.Image: Splash Damage, The Coalition/Xbox Game Studios

But the game falls apart when it tries to create a cohesive, unified experience. The wires holding everything together are too often visible, and it wrecks what little immersion Gears Tactics manage to build up.

When things are going well for your side, the game can sometimes fail to provide a tone that matches where you are in a level. Soldiers will crack wise with a tense bark, or command new recruits to act more like soldiers. Everyone needs to man up and stay frosty! Meanwhile, the board is completely empty, and you’re just killing time for a few rounds before another wave of enemies invariably drops from the sky. My team never seemed to be as connected to what was going on as I’m used to from other games.

Missions will sometimes stop on a dime, ripping you out of the game too suddenly. It may happen because you’ve failed to protect the main character and need to start over, but sometimes you’ve just accumulated enough of a resource to fulfill the objective and trigger the cutscene, which ends the round instantly. This can happen just when it feels like the mission is just getting good, and during those moments it almost feels like my reward for doing well is taken away. I won the mission, and to celebrate that win everything just kinda … ends?

Players battling a giant Brumak. The beast shows tens of thousands of points of armor. Previous enemies only had hundreds, maybe a thousand points. Red circles show where it’s powerful missiles will land.Image: Splash Damage, The Coalition/Xbox Game Studios

This happened more than once — another Boomer had come up from an emergence hole, or an avenue of escape was suddenly blocked off by some explosive Tickers. I wish that Gears Tactics was able to sustain those fun gameplay moments in a way that let me play out whatever would have happened next, rather than kicking me out and making me start over with a new mission while I’m stuck feeling like I wasn’t able to properly bring the last section to a close.

Not all missions are created equal. As I mentioned above, Gears Tactics — just like every other Gear of War game — is best when you’re on the move. Defensive missions in this turn-based adaptation tend to drag on and on, once again killing any sense of momentum or fun.

Meanwhile, I was forced to sit through the same cinematic of the Brumak firing its shoulder-mounted missile launchers more than a dozen times, dragging out the dull experience of whittling down its health. I didn’t celebrate when it finally fell, I just happened to be done with an encounter that felt like an endless drag.

The menus that players use between missions are also poorly designed. That’s especially true of the equipment system, which buries all of your available kit four menus deep. Say that you want to rebuild your lancer, the classic Gears of War rifle with a chainsaw attachment. To find our what your options are for the ammunition magazine, for instance, you have to drill all the way down to the last menu in the chain to see what’s available. Repeat the process for the stock, the weapon sight, and the barrel and it becomes an incredibly tedious process.

There are at least four other weapons in the game, meaning that you’ve got to do this dance dozens of times ahead of each mission to try and stack up the best incremental bonuses for your troops. I would have much rather had the ability to strip every soldier down to their skivvies and dress them up for every mission, instead of playing this dreary game of Tetris trying to figure out how to best spread all the available equipment around.

The fundamentals of Gears Tactics work, but Gears 5 did much more than just work. It pushed the formula forward.

Moving and shooting and cutting up Locusts is a good time, even in a turn-based system, but that’s not enough to sustain an entire game. Every other element of the game — from the class system to the perks, to the way that missions and UI elements are designed — needs more refinement and care.

This is a near miss, but as anyone who has ever played a turn-based game will tell you, a near miss can be all the enemy needs to take you out. This is an interesting, but hardly essential, addition to the Gears family.

Categories
App Reviews

Apple Allowed A Fake Minecraft: Pocket Edition 2 App To Be Sold For More Than Two Weeks

Earlier today, Apple App Store users noticed that the long-awaited, unannounced, probably not even in development sequel to Minecraft is now available. Yes, we were surprised, too. So was Mojang.

Before you rush off to download Minecraft: Pocket Edition 2, there are two things you should know. First, it was a fraud. Second, it’s gone. But before it got pulled, it shot up to the #4 spot in Apple’s paid app rankings.

The app was not authored by Mojang, of course. It was published on December 21 by someone going by the name “Scott Cawthorn.” Prior to Apple apparently wiping the “developer” from its store, he also had a fake Five Nights at Freddy’s app.

While those apps are now gone, a cursory search reveals other infringing offerings for both Minecraft and Five Nights at Freddy’s. The Minecraft End User License Agreement allows guides, but apps like paid quizzes and infinite runners that invoke the Minecraft name or content are not permitted.

We’ve reached out to Apple to find out more about its review process, how a fraudulent offering infringing on the store’s top-selling app passed muster, and what (if anything) it will do to prevent this sort of behavior in the future. We’ll update should we receive a response.

Our Take
This points to an ongoing failure on Apple’s part. The store has notoriously permitted clones and other deceptive apps, as evidenced by the number of copies of Threes and Flappy Bird that emerged last year. 

It’s no surprise that something pretending to be a Minecraft sequel performed well. It’s just shocking Apple’s review process, whatever it is, is so porous.