PlayStation 3 games

[Review] Journey (2012) (PS4)

It was a Sunday night whim that got me playing the game Journey for the PlayStation 4. The hubs, BuriedOnMars, had tried playing this game earlier in the week and dropped it. But, he encouraged me to try it out to see how I liked it. I knew nothing about it going in, except that it was a type of walking simulator, which I very much enjoy (Firewatch, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture).

In the first scene of  Journey we see an expanse of desert sand and a hazy sun in the sky; a sweeping violin music sets a melancholic mood. A star falls from the sky, and what we see rise up is a striking robed figure which is the character you maneuver. You lead this character across the sandy plain to come upon hilltop stone markers with bits of ripped cloth tied to them, blowing in the breeze. A high mountain presents itself in the distance, a bright beam of light shining at its apex. This is your destination – your destiny – as you traverse the desert. The bits of cloth are your life line. You play a tiny chime and the rags come to life by extending yours, and by chiming in, your character develops a scarf-like garment that flows behind them in the wind – an important garment that allows your character the ability to jump and fly to great heights.  This trait is important as it gives your character the ability to complete brief but important tasks to allow you to pass on to the next level.

Along the way, you encounter other figures like yourself – these are actual gamers in their own game networked in through the PSN, who like you are trying to reach the mountain. At this point you encounter a handful of companions that help you complete levels and get to the end. The game takes under two hours to complete.

The first thing that drew me in was the graphics and the music. The game had a middle-eastern flavour, which I particularly liked. The music was beautiful, and reminded me a lot of Glass Masquerade as it really gave the game that mystery flair. I am also a sucker for odd-looking characters with a mysterious past, and Journey‘s main character certainly fits the bill. The game looked great. The controls were simple enough: using the PS4 controller, besides the sticks, you really only had two buttons to worry about – X and O – which I can definitely get behind. Great music, neat-looking characters, gorgeous graphics, easy gameplay…what’s not to like?

Well…I kept wondering what the punchline to Journey was…what was the end game…the point?

Was I leading this character from birth to death? …The harsh landscape they must travel to reach higher heights…the fluidity of relationships as people enter the game and depart just as quickly. The symbolism is palpable which wasn’t the issue for me – I could actually get behind the theme. I had one serious problem with an integral part to the gameplay: I did not like the fact other players could enter my game to “help” me.

I encountered about 6 other players while in Journey, and found most to be a nuisance. Aside from one guy who stopped by to chime “Hi” and disappear, the majority walked in and took over everything, completing important tasks in the game before I was given a chance to even figure out what I was supposed to do. They were just too damn fast for me! I remember turning to BuriedOnMars and saying, “WTF? Get the eff out of my game! Whose game is this supposed to be anyway??” I was trailing behind these strangers like some pathetic chump while they leveled us both up.

I didn’t get that sense of accomplishment obtained by completing the game myself. This goes beyond co-op: when the hubs and I game, we are doing things together and taking turns on tasks that make sense for a multi-player game. Borderlands is a great example of co-op done well. Journey, on the other hand, had one linear task to complete at a time, and tasks that were really only meant to be completed by one player. So when you have two people, and the stronger player completes all the necessary tasks like they were trying to beat the game in record time, what am I left with?

I don’t like feeling inadequate when gaming, let alone in my life. I know myself well enough to know Journey‘s multiplayer component did not match my will at all. I am stubborn, I have endurance, I am passionate, and I am fiercely independent. If anything, my journey in playing this game highlighted those characteristics in me. So, I suppose I can say then that Journey has the “metaphor for life” analogy nailed down…especially when you’re dealing with me.

3.5/5 graphics

2.75/5 the rest

Journey (PS4) (available for the PS3 too)
thatgamecompany
2012

[Review] Silent Hill: Downpour (PS3)

Silent Hill is a survival horror franchise that I have a little history with. I played Silent Hill: Shattered Memories on the PSP five summers ago and was terrified most of the time. I reflect back on that survival horror game, and consider it one of the first from the genre that got me into playing scary games in the first place. When the hubs suggested we play Silent Hill: Downpour together on the PS3 this past December, I agreed to it. Together, we slogged through it over a couple of weekends.

You play as Murphy Pendleton who is, at first blush, all kinds of bad. In prison serving an unknown wrap, Murphy is making enemies everywhere he goes, including officer Ann Cunningham, who has a serious bone to pick with him. It is while being transported to another penitentiary that Murphy’s bus crashes, killing everyone on board but Murphy. He is left to his own devices in the forest, but before he can even think of his freedom, he finds himself amid the eerie, rainy and somewhat abandoned town of Silent Hill, a perpetual hell where there is never any escape. While in Silent Hill, Murphy is pursued by monsters which he must defend against. He goes searching through the town, exploring abandoned buildings to find clues about his fate and objects he can use for his escape. Silent Hill’s gloomy buildings can transform spontaneously into a parallel universe where the walls turn dark, blunt obstacles turn sharp, and red shadows chase and disorientate Murphy.

Murphy’s back story is a mystery from the get-go. You are given very few details about him, and as the game progresses things eventually fall into place (sort of), but it’s a long winding journey. The gamer is provided with flashbacks periodically that lift the curtain a little on Murphy, but I have to say the pacing of the story was very slow, and I soon found myself impatient, wondering why the hell this guy was in Silent Hill, and why the heck I should bother saving him in the first place.

You direct Murphy in third-person gameplay. Like other Silent Hill games, Downpour had some jump-scare moments, especially when Murphy suddenly entered into the evil parallel world where he was being chased, or gets confronted by a monster. To that end, I found the combat in Downpour was pretty lame. You are only able to pick up one weapon at a time, each often felt pretty ineffective. Along the way you are given a gun, but the aiming sucks, so it barely did anything. Beating a creep down with any weapon, in fact, felt like an exercise in futility, and we often found ourselves running away from a monster as a more effective method than sticking around.

Wild guess: Which screenshot comes from Silent Hill: Downpour and which is from Alan Wake?*

Throughout my experience with this game, I couldn’t help but think the game designers of Downpour took inspiration from Alan Wake, nicking some key plot tropes from one of my favourite games. In fact, I can think of at least 10 similarities between the two:

  • A gloomy landscape
  • Forest hiking
  • Use of a flash light
  • Flocks of birds that attack
  • Flashbacks to the past
  • Riding a Gondola lift
  • Breaking into spooky buildings
  • Trespassing through diners and gas stations
  • A Female police officer
  • And look out for gusts of wind and fog; the monsters are coming!

There are more but, this list is a start. Whether by accident or coincidence, Downpour has really tapped into obvious parallels with Wake. The whole time, I turned to the hubs and said, “I feel like I’ve played this before….This feels like Alan Wake…” Except, Alan Wake is two years younger than Silent Hill: Downpour…and does things a lot better than this game; the story, weapons and general gameplay were much more enjoyable.

I can’t help but feel disappointment with Silent Hill: Downpour, especially since Shattered Memories was so engrossing. Take a pass on Downpour – there are better survival horror games out there.

2/5

Silent Hill: Downpour (PS3)
Konami
2012

*Alan Wake is on the left, Silent Hill: Downpour is on the right.

[Review] Life Is Strange (XBox One)

Undo. Rewind. Do over.

Don’t you wish sometimes you were given a second chance to go back in time and correct mistakes made, or make right a bad ending? Be careful what you wish for! That is one lesson learned while playing the Square Enix game, Life is Strange!

Max Caulfield moved away from Arcadia Bay, Oregon to Seattle, Washington with her family when she turned 13, leaving behind her best friend, Chloe. Five years later, Max returns to Arcadia Bay to enroll in the prestigious Blackwell Academy on a Photography scholarship.  The geeky and kind Max enjoys spending her time peering through the lens of her Polaroid camera (her chosen medium) and taking pictures of nature. Blackwell Academy, for what it’s worth, is full of the typical cliquey high school drama. Max tries to avoid it, and concentrate on what is important to her – the upcoming Photography contest, and her dreamy teacher, Mr. Jefferson.

It was a violent incident one day on campus that made her aware of a new power she had at her fingertips – the ability to turn back time. She soon put her powers to work, changing negative outcomes to more favourable ones whenever the opportunity would present itself. This newfound ability was surprising and unbelievable. Her powers worked well for a spell, and was even fun, but soon, too much turning back father time created a shit storm of negative environmental events which become hard to untangle without risking lives…and timelines.

Life is Strange is a graphic adventure game where the player is provided a set of choices that have consequences depending on the path you take. This was about the only difficult thing about the game – making choices for Max. Thankfully, unlike some other choice-driven games like the Walking Dead, there is no time limit – you actually have time to read and reflect on the decision (in the Walking Dead, they give you, like, 10 seconds for four choices – barely enough time to decode and process what I just read…). The menu system for the game is pretty easy to use and is where you have access to Max’s personal journal (which was interesting, voyeuristic) and her cellphone to receive texts from her family and friends.

Although set in modern-day, this game’s layered sub-plots and relationships between characters brought back a tonne of teenaged memories for me – the friendship between Max and her best friend Chloe, Max’s insecurity about her talent as a Photography student, taking art classes and opining about art, putting up with cliques…I saw a lot of myself in Max. Even decisions having to do with loyalties with friends (who hasn’t dealt with that?).

Let’s talk about the style of Life is Strange: gorgeous. The game’s use of light, shade and tonal gradation to emote a feeling was very effective. I mean, I could stare into those sunsets all day. The game also lingers long and takes its time, using strategic shots to set a scene. Every shot appears to have been thought out and successfully executed. Absolutely awesome.

The version I played was from the Life Is Strange Limited Edition package on the Xbox One – a gift from my husband – and it is awesome! The collection includes the entire game, a scrap book and a soundtrack CD – pretty damn cool. The music is an off-beat mix of atmospheric modern-Indie Folk, alternative and dance; Syd Matters, alt-J, Foals and Jose Gonzalez (to name a few) fill the game’s soundtrack with a sound that pairs well with the stylings of Life is Strange. I know some people won’t like the music, and I can’t say I like all of it, but I think most of it is very good.

This game was the first one I played on the Xbox One, and I have to say I am pleased with the smooth experience. No glitches at all, and everything looked crisp. Overall, I highly recommend Life is Strange. It’s available for Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, PS3 and Windows.

9/10

Life Is Strange (Xbox One)
Dontnod / Square Enix
Released: January 2015

[Review] The Testament of Sherlock Holmes (PS3/PC)

My first experience having any interaction with Sherlock Holmes was the adventure game, the Mummy, and I was not that impressed by the gameplay, nor Holmes’s character. The Mummy is an older game from the early 2000s, so the graphics can be overlooked. However, Holmes’s snooty know-it-all character really bothered me. I really didn’t like him very much, and I think that almost ruined my future of playing anything Sherlock Holmes. I am glad I left that door open a crack to make room for future Holmes games; Boy, am I ever!

The Testament of Sherlock Holmes begins in a dusty attic where three young children; two girls and a very young boy, go exploring. One of them finds an old book written by Dr. John Watson, Holmes’s faithful sidekick, about one of Holmes’s cases. The kids gather ’round and listen while one of them reads a very disturbing story. The story then propels the gamer to Holmes and Watson at the turn of the 20th century. They are called to investigate the brutal murder of a bishop at his living quarters. This investigation leads the pair all over London and environs, trying to uncover those responsible. The story digs deep which I won’t elaborate on without spoiling it for the rest of you, but it is a full-bodied, complete and satisfactory story from start to finish. 

Never have I spent so much time single-handedly trying to finish a game before. I originally started to play the game on the PS3. My friend, Frank, lent me his copy. I sat on the game for about 5 months until I realized my Christmas return deadline was rolling up fast, so I played the game for a solid 3 weeks before realizing the game is huge and I was not going to finish it in time. But that ended up being okay thanks to Steam’s Winter Sale where I got the Testament of Sherlock Holmes for super cheap. It just meant a new platform, and having to play the game all over again. Some might think that prospect would be tedious, but I actually didn’t mind it. Essentially, I have blown about 20 hours on this game; about 7 hours on the PS3 version, and 13 on the PC version.

The good: Gameplay is simple enough. Visual cues are easy to understand.Good guts: menu system rocks, decent map that makes sense. Great graphics. Awesome story. Somebody stop me!

The Bad: Subject matter can be very gruesome, graphic and in some cases, shocking (and this is ME saying that…). Puzzles are super stump-worthy. Watson lacks personal space. (And I am passing parental judgment here…) These children in the attic should not be reading this story!

The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is a first-person and third-person perspective game, and one can easily switch between the two perspectives. You play Holmes and Watson, one character at a time depending on the scene and situation. The game lets you know which character you will be playing. It is an adventure game that encourages you to move about and explore your space. Some icons – like a magnifying glass and a pipe – give the gamer visual cues that an action should be taken. To that end, manoeuvring through the clues is very simple, and once a clue has been explored, it is deactivated. In your collecting of clues, you are made to deduce how the crime took place, thanks to a deduction board in the menu. Certain aspects of the story are given, and it’s up to you to make the puzzles fit to come to the correct conclusion. This is one area that is challenging, but very fun. There are separate puzzles that you encounter along the way as well, like picking a lock, and untangling rope.

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The menu system is easily scrolled through using the bumpers on the gaming controller. Every clue that is discovered is recorded in some capacity in that menu, whether it be an object placed in inventory, or something revealed in an interview. Also, one thing I found very helpful was the transcript of everything that is said in the game. So for example, if the phone rings at home while you are playing, you can refer back so you don’t lose your place in the story. I also must play props to the mapping system. I know the last couple of reviews I crowed about the shitty map. This game does the map right, and allows you to click a place to propel you there.

Great menu system

Great menu system

Playing this game has redeemed my feelings toward Sherlock Holmes. In hindsight, I should not have started the franchise with the Mummy game, but thankfully I gave Holmes one more chance with Testament of Sherlock Holmes. Holmes is somewhat of a know-it-all, yes. But, he does have the cajones to back it all up. In this game, his partner, Watson, also shone. My only complaint about him was that he followed you around and had this awful habit of stopping right in front of you and refusing to move.

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With amazing graphics, there was also some shocking imagery. I wouldn’t say it turned me off to the game at all – it just was a bit unexpected how vivid and in some cases, out-of-place they were…so if you play, just be prepared.

Just your average body in the wall...nothing to see here...

Just your average body in the wall…nothing to see here…

When I moved from the PS3 to the PC  version of the Testament of Sherlock Holmes, I was half expecting there to be some subtle differences, but honestly, about the only real thing I noticed was that the lip sync was a bit off in the PC version – a propos of nothing. The game looks great on both platforms, and both play similarly. Overall, the Testament of Sherlock Holmes was stellar and I highly recommend it. Thanks to Steam, I bought the full collection of Sherlock Holmes games, and I look forward to more adventures in the franchise!

The Testament of Sherlock Holmes
Developer: Focus
Released: 2013

[Review] Scott Pilgrim Vs the World: The Game (PS3)

Imagine falling for someone but having to compete for their affections with 7 other exes still carrying some kind of torch for this someone.

[Insert “Bitch, please” meem here…]

This, in essence is what Scott Pilgrim in Scott Pilgrim Vs the World: The Game is having to deal with. He falls for Ramona… who has a history. Now, he needs to compete for her affections with her history – seven exes – and it ain’t nothing like beating up someone for milk money. These dudes have super-powers and mean business, yo! Scott unknowingly also has some powers that don’t come to light until he has to beat ’em up. He and his friends band together to combat them evil forces so he can do more smoochin’ and less beatin’ up.

Scott Pilgrim is a side-scroller game. You have the choice of playing one of four characters, including Scott and Ramona. Each character has a different talent or super-power. As you go through a chapter, you are presented with a new ex which has his own power that you must defeat. Of course, while beating ’em up, your health depletes. As you travel through and defeat the exes’ minions, you can collect loonies and twonies that you find scattered around, which can be used in between battles to do some shopping: for food, drink, videos and reading material. Each item you buy contributes to your overall health and welfare, allowing you to exude more energy to beat those exes up. The battle scenes are challenging, but fulfilling, especially if you play this in multiplayer like I did (you can play with 4 friends if you want to!).

The game pays homage to SNES gaming with its side-scroller game-play that uses 16-bit type graphic animation from the SNES era. When you first start the game, you can’t help but notice similarities to Super Mario 3’s chapter screen. The game is based on the comic book series (which is awesome, btw) and loosely based on the movie. The game also is set in Toronto, Ontario, so those who know Toronto will be familiar with the TTC buses that Scott, et al. have to dodge as they come speeding up the road, or other well-known landmarks like Casa Loma, Rogers Centre and CN Tower. I played this game on the PlayStation 3, but it is also available on the Xbox 360.


Fun, different and highly recommended. Scott Pilgrim Vs The World: The Game is a great comic book / movie / video game tie in. Fans of the series would not be disappointed.

Scott Pilgrim Vs the World: the Game
Publisher: UbiSoft / Universal
Released: 2010

[Review] House of the Dead: Overkill (PS3)

It seems that ever since the Walking Dead started airing, zombie fanaticism has increased ten-fold, even though zombies have been the subject of countless movies, tv and other media for decades. Like the vampire phenomenon from a couple of years ago, the popularity of zombies has surged, and now we see them everywhere on a daily basis. In fact, I was at Value Village just the other day, and was amazed at all the zombie outfits people were buying for Halloween.

Zombies, the undead, the infected, whatever you wish to call them…have been the subject of video games for a while now, and here’s hoping zombies will continue to be long after the Walking Dead ends (oh, please never end…).

No doubt, there is some real appeal to having zombies in our virtual cross-hairs, and one gaming franchise exemplifies this in a fun and entertaining way – the House of the Dead franchise. My first exposure to it was through a friend of mine who lent me her copy, House of the Dead 2 and 3 for the Wii. I honestly didn’t take a huge liking to it. It was a very unforgiving game to play, especially in co-op. My husband had bought House of the Dead: Overkill for the PS3, and even though I didn’t like its predecessor very much, I accepted his invitation to play the game in co-op, and was pleasantly surprised!

The story tells of this millitary experiment where a serum was made to make superhumans, but the experiment failed. As the story goes, the formula fell into the wrong hands, and now the territory is full of mutants infected by this serum. Meanwhile, a set of detectives, along with a pair of strippers (yep, you read that right) are hell-bent to find those responsible, and kill any mutants that stand in their way before they themselves become infected.

The game itself is considered a rails shooter, where the game basically leads the player along on a pre-determined path, sort of like you were on a ride at Canada’s Wonderland. Each scene is different, and it only allows you to play pre-determined characters in the scene; they switch up depending on the plot, so sooner or later you could eventually play every character if you wanted to. You are given a weapon to use, so as the game leads you into the path of mutants, you can use your controller to shoot ’em up. Of course, the end of each scene has a boss fight where you are fighting some disgusting creature. So much fun!

My husband and I played using the PlayStation Move controllers which I highly recommend. Two-player co-op is a dream – no split screen, and you can shoot up any area of the playing field you want. The game looks great, and sounds even better, with a funky Curtis Mayfield/ Isaac Hayes-sounding soundtrack. The script read by the characters in the game is quite vulgar – a lot of eff bombs – so if you are sensitive to that, you may not like that aspect. Then again, if you are offended by eff bombs, having two scantily-clad exotic dancers packing heat may shock you ahead of the eff bombs (just sayin’…).

House of the Dead: Overkill is so much fun, and I highly recommend it – just in time for Halloween!

House of the Dead: Overkill (PS3)
Publisher: Sega
Released: 2011