Category Archives: xbox 360

Brave’s videogame transformation is not surprisingly rote

I’m sure I wasn’t alone in being slightly baffled as to why Brave, that character action romp from 2012 developed by Behaviour Interactive and published by Disney Interactive Studios, not to be mixed up with another similar-sounding series, was being offered as a Games for Gold freebie this month for those on Xbox One and Xbox 360, but then I realized it is probably the closest thing Microsoft has that’s Irish-like in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. I mean, let’s look at the facts–Scotland is totally near Ireland, and Kelly Macdonald’s deeply relaxing and soothing accent might as well be coming out of a banshee’s mouth. I guess those are all the facts.

Actually, no, another fact–I love Brave. I’m specifically talking about the animated movie here, the one where Princess Mérida, determined to make her own path in life, defies a custom that brings chaos to her kingdom. Granted one wish, she must rely on her bravery and ultra-good archery skills to undo a beastly curse and bring about peace to both her kingdom and family. That said, I do not love the videogame version of Brave, though I have just about squeezed every bit of entertainment from it by the time this post goes public. By that, I mean I popped all but one Achievement, the one for beating the game on its hardest difficulty setting.

This tie-in take on Brave doesn’t follow the film’s events scene by scene. Instead, it’s kind of a side happening, with Mérida chasing after her mother, now in bear form (uh, spoilers?), and discovering that a magical blight has befallen the land. To stop it, she’ll need to defeat Mor’du, along with a number of generically traditional evil creatures. There’s under ten levels to get through, and you’ll do them linearly, and they are all linear themselves, following almost the same exact progression, but more on that in a bit. The story never really becomes its own thing and never rises above an excuse to have a bunch of monsters to destroy; at least the hand-drawn cutscenes are more interesting to watch than the ones using in-game graphics, which, and this is not uncommon for this generation, are extremely ugly and lacking life, character. I mean, the inside of any castle section might as well be from the chopping floor for Demon Souls or Oblivion.

Brave‘s gameplay is far from courageous or anything unique. There’s running around, jumping on platforms, loosing arrows, and hitting plants and enemies with your sword. Oh, and I can’t forget the section where you play as her bear-mother Elinor, or the parts where you control her bear-brothers to solve beyond straightforward puzzles involving levers and switches. Honestly, I was surprised to discover that this kind of played like a twin-stick shooter. Using the right stick, you can loose an arrow in mostly any direction and change the element it is based on–earth, fire, wind, or ice–which is necessary for affecting the environment, as well as dealing more damage based on an enemy’s weakness. Fire boars hate ice, for instance. That said, the arrows sometimes don’t go where you want them to, and it reminded me a lot of trying to hit enemies in the background in Shadow Complex.

Look, this is obviously a family-friendly title, and thus, the action is okay, never trying too hard to be more than a standard affair. On the default difficulty, it never, ever even came close to challenging. My go-to plan for dealing with enemies was to fire at them from a distance and then, if they got close, double-jump and stab downward into the ground with Mérida’s sword for a damaging slam move. The only time it ever got tricky was when there were multiple enemies on screen with different weaknesses, requiring you to either switch your element out on the fly or take on a single set of enemies out first. The final boss fight–or rather final boss fights–have a bunch of these, but by that point in the game, Mérida is full of upgrades and more than capable of taking a few hits.

Speaking of that, the upgrades are what one expects in these types of games–more health, deal more damage, element effects last longer, potions restore more life, etc. They each require a specific amount of gold, which you earn from defeating monsters and cutting up flora. One playthrough alone of the game will probably only net you enough gold coins to buy maybe one-third of all the upgrades. So choose wisely or, if you are like me and want every Achievement, be prepared to grind out some money, and this includes purchasing the co-op specific upgrades. The ones you definitely want early on are increasing your power move meter more quickly, either from dealing damage or receiving it, the range at which you suck up gold coins, and the minion-summoning power for the earth element.

I’ve not played many of these tie-in games to Pixar/Disney properties I love because, well, they are often not what I want. Here’s a link to my thoughts on that The Incredibles game, which still hurts to think about today. I can’t say I was surprised by how Brave turned out, and I’m only holding out hope now on the rumor of a LEGO-based game for the upcoming The Incredibles II. That said, I’m sure if I ever get a copy of the videogame takes on WALL-E, Up, or Toy Story 3, I’ll foolishly give them a honest chance, forgetting all the missteps I’ve seen along the way up to this point.

Well, as they famously say in Scotland, lang may yer lum reek, Brave. I never want to play you again.


2018 Game Review Haiku, #17 – Assassin’s Creed: Revelations

Bombs are a big deal
For an older Ezio
Nothing new divulged

For 2018, I’m mixing things up by fusing my marvelous artwork and even more amazing skills at writing videogame-themed haikus to give you…a piece of artwork followed by a haiku. I know, it’s crazy. Here’s hoping you like at least one aspect or even both, and I’m curious to see if my drawing style changes at all over three hundred and sixty-five days (no leap year until 2020, kids). Okay, another year of 5–7–5 syllable counts is officially a go.

In Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, you fight ideas with bombs

I’m continuing to work through the Assassin’s Creed games…well, the ones I have anyways. Left to go in my current collection are the topic du jour (psst, that’s French for Assassin’s Creed: Revelations), Assassin’s Creed III, and two entries from the Assassin’s Creed Chronicles sub-series, which I’m lead to believe are a bit different in structure and style. I’ve already played the first game, the second game, the sequel to the second game, and the one featuring pirates and battles at sea. I like each of them to varying degrees.

All right, here we go. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is the third and final chapter in the so-called Ezio trilogy. It picks up right after Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, which, I had completely forgotten, ended with a big ol’ killer twist. Anyways, spoiler alert for a 2011 game…in three, two, one. Desmond Miles has fallen into a coma due to the stress of being forced to kill his ally Lucy Stillman while being controlled by Juno, the hologram attached to the Apple of Eden. In an effort to save Desmond’s mind, Rebecca Crane places him back in the Animus, in the machine’s safe mode called the “Black Room”. Alas, the only way to repair his mind is by reliving his ancestors’ memories until there is nothing left for them to show Desmond, at which point the Animus can separate Desmond from Ezio and Altaïr and awaken him from his coma. Er, yeah–it’s not at all confusing. And so, you jump back into the perspective of the still suave but older Ezio Auditore. Four years after ending the life of Cesare Borgia, Ezio has traveled to the former Assassins’ fortress in Masyaf to discover the secrets Altaïr had previously unearthed and find the true purpose of the assassins.

Phew. Look, at this point, I’m not really paying all that much attention to the plot, especially since I’ve already heard that, despite the game’s boasting subtitle, there are very few revelations to learn in Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. I’m here for the running around, rooftop climbing, knife throwing, stealth stabbing, hay jumping, bomb tossing, collectible finding antics. Also, buying different dyes for Ezio’s outfit always makes me happy, especially the green-themed ones, and watching Constantinople grow due to his influence and the money roll into your bank account in larger amounts is extremely satisfying.

As far as I can tell, this plays just as well as Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. I think by this point in the series Ubisoft tightened the controls and really made everything feel both good and natural. I’m finding myself not making as many  jumping mistakes when climbing up tall towers, and the hookblade upgrade really helps move things along quicker, with Ezio now able to leap higher and use ziplines conveniently placed around the city. Otherwise, it’s an Assassin’s Creed game, and so you probably already know what you do in these games, generally. Strangely, there’s some optional first-person platforming sections when playing as comatose Desmond, and they are about as fun as you might initially expect. I’m going to finish them all for the sake of Achievements only. Also, if the Templars become too aware of your actions, they will attack one of your dens, and the only way to get it back is through a tower defense minigame, which I do not like one bit.

As of this writing, I’m somewhere in…sequence 5 (of 9) for Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. I’ve only seen two or three instances of tailing missions so far, and they honestly weren’t that bad compared to others. Otherwise, everything has been par for the course, with some fetch quests, some platforming challenges, some hidden murdering, some open murdering, and a whole lot of collecting treasure, purchasing shops, and completing challenges. For some reason, I really like these kinds of games because there is always something to do, a goal to go after, not just the main quests. Even standing around idle will eventually help, with money being deposited in your bank account every twenty minutes.

Perhaps the thing that separates Assassin’s Creed: Revelations from others in the series, at this point in its release, is its focus on bombs. For those that don’t know, bombs are explosive weapons used by assassins from as early as the High Middle Ages, and they can be employed for a variety of tactics, including escape, assault, and distraction. Ezio can craft his own bombs by looting dead soldiers for materials or he can purchase them from illusive shopkeepers, and I have found myself using them more than expected; if anything, they are great distraction items, especially if you need to make a quick getaway. Still, the controls for them can be fiddly, and trying to use them effectively in the middle of an eight-on-one sword fight does not always work out right. It does add some variety and options to the missions though.

I don’t expect to learn much by the end of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, but coming to it many years later, and not right after the previous game, wherein many were beginning to suffer from Ubisoft fatigue, I’m having a fine ol’ time. I also have to wonder how many, if any, are even playing this game’s multiplayer; I’ll give it a try after credits scroll, but I won’t hold my breath.

Back to Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, where the shadows are

I acquired a digital version of the Game of the Year edition of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor at the same time I got Dragon Age: Inquisition, which was last Black Friday. Not a full year ago, but somewhat close. Still, knowing that both were big, meaty adventures with intricate systems, I decided to start one over the other and promised not to diverge from that plan until credits rolled. I went with Dragon Age: Inquisition and greatly regret that decision. I had played inferior versions of both games, click here for whinging about glitches in Ferelden and click here for whinging about insufferably long load times in Middle-earth, but I was more interested, at that time, in a traditional roleplaying adventure that was all about managing stats and less about quickly climbing up rocks and sticking daggers in necks. If only I knew then what I know now.

Moving along, I’m now working my way through Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor at the same time as I tackle the open wilderness in Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, at more or less the same pace as I did with the Xbox 360 version, even tackling the side missions and collectibles similarly. What can I say, I’m a creature of habit. The only difference really is that this GOTY edition provided me with some extra special weapon runes from the start, one of which lights my sword on fire after a long combo streak. I’m usually not a fan of pre-order bonuses that dramatically make things easier for the player, but this time I’m not complaining. Also, it looks cool as heck, the kind of effect that Beric Dondarrion would quietly appreciate.

The ho-hum plot takes place between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. You control a ranger called Talion, who was killed by the Black Hand of Sauron alongside his wife and son. The wraith of the Elf Lord Celebrimbor bonds with Talion’s body, and together they set out to avenge the deaths of their loved ones by taking down every goblin, orc, and troll in their way. Also, there’s Gollum, because of course there is, and his missions often have him leading you somewhere and then following hidden tracks to trigger an event. I’m a little further story-wise than I was during my first go at Talion’s take on revenge, and I’m not finding it all that thrilling, and this is from a guy that has played a lot of Lord of the Rings games, including sub-par ones like The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and Aragorn’s Quest, both from the PlayStation 2 era.

Gameplay in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, which one could easily call a third-person open world action-adventure thing, is basically the Assassin’s Creed series with big improvements to mobility and combat. You run around, you climb, you attack swarms of enemies, you collect collectibles, and you level up your weapons and abilities by gaining XP. You can be a stealthy ranger or an action-first ranger or, most likely, a mixture of both. The combat is rhythmic in the vein of Batman: Arkham Asylum, and it feels good to be in complete control of a mob of Orcs, keeping the combo chain high and mighty. There’s no surprises here so far, but a lot has been streamlined to feel better or make things easier, such as not taking fall down from high heights or being able to get a burst of speed after mantling an object. My favorite is a new ability I just got that lets Talion immediately warp to a selected enemy’s location; Tolkien sure did love his teleporting rangers.

Obviously, the biggest hook in Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor‘s arsenal is the Nemesis System, which tracks any non-generic Uruk that the player comes into contact with, either through story beats or simply by killing Talion or surviving a fight with the ranger. These Uruk will be promoted into captains, and defeating these leaders helps weaken Sauron’s army. On the flip side, being killed by a named Uruk will cause the current mission to be cancelled, and the victorious Uruk will gain additional power, making him more difficult to defeat in the next encounter. This system was not fully implemented on the previous generation version, and I definitely missed out on a lot of personality, character, of really feeling like these Uruks were living, breathing, vengeful monstrosities traipsing around Middle-earth according to their own schedules. See, each of these named Uruks have a range of strengths and weaknesses that Talion can exploit in combat to quickly take them out, such as a fear of explosions or invulnerability to ranged attacks, and you can gain this type of knowledge by draining and interrogating marked enemies, systemically removing the leader’s bodyguards and barriers.

I’m mildly enjoying Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, but in bite-sized chunks. Hop into the game, find a collectible or two, take on a story mission, and close out, as the combat can become quite button mashy and my thumb often needs a break by the time Talion is done beheading his fiftieth orc. The stealth, when successful, is great and makes you feel pretty powerful, but I’m not invested in the story bits…one bit. As this is the GOTY edition, there’s plenty to see and do, with DLC included, and I’ll probably keep plugging away at this while everyone enjoys Middle-earth: Shadow of War next month. Thankfully, I’m in no rush to see Sauron’s army fall, especially knowing that it will just rise up again, bigger and stronger, in the forthcoming sequel.

80,000 Gamerscore lies in the joy of achievement

Hello, my few dear readers. I’m sure you all realize that it’s been about eight months since I hit 70,000 Gamerscore perfectly on the head. Well, the good news is that I’m back with another ten grand. Go me, go my fingers and thumbs, and go creating a silly goal for popping these numerous Achievements, which, ultimately, in the end do not mean much. Eh, that’s okay. I’m having fun doing what I’m doing…if you need a refresher on all of the milestone markers I’ve touched during this journey of mine since early 2010, just follow this tag.

Anyways, videogames. I played them, they rewarded me with digital pictures and numbers, and now I have for you the latest tally hammered hard on the mark, in all its beauty and refinement:

Boom. Click the image if you want to see that number closer up. Getting this was a little trickier than expected, with only having 25 Gamerscore to work with. I thought, at first, I could pop this easily in Rare Replay, but was struggling with some of those Snapshot challenges. Those older games, like Digger T. Rock and Snake Rattle n Roll, are not the easiest to control. Which then lead me to dive deep into my Xbox One’s digital games library folder to see if there was anything easy in a new game to unlock. Such as “finish the tutorial” or “watch the credits” Achievements. I opened a bunch of games, such as Grow Up, The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition, and Kameo: Elements of Power. I thought the former would work out since it is kind of a collectathon, but nope, too many Achievements with high scores. All of the Achievements in The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition, which I do need to play sooner than later, were hidden, and I was too lazy to look up their descriptions. And that last one, that Kameo, seemed to have a bunch of Achievements worth 0 Gamerscore, which I will never understand the point of, but I’m no designer. But here’s proof I did open Rare’s launch title for the Xbox 360 and will now probably have to actually play some of it down the road:

Finally, after opening several more games and getting nowhere, I discovered an early Achievement in Super Dungeon Bros, which is a rock-themed dungeon brawler where a band of mighty rock bros must navigate the fantasy realm of Rökheim and its hellish dungeons. Uh huh. Deep breath. Right, the Achievement was for completing the your first mission in the game, worth exactly 25 Gamerscore, and 8.65% had already unlocked it. I only needed to be careful to not unlock anything else along the way. Which, naturally, I did. This thing, fortuitously worth the same amount of points, popped at the tally screen at the end of the level:

Time Management (25G) – You beat a level before reaching threat level 3

I was worried that hitting any more buttons would “complete” the first mission and ruin my perfect 80,000 number, so I quickly bounced back to the dashboard and closed the game before anything else could happen. I’m crazy, but these are the things I do for this fleeting moments of fun. I’m sure I’ll have another hurdle to cross to nail 90,000. I predict that I’ll be getting an easy 2,000 soon since Mel got me two LEGO videogames for my birferday recently, specifically LEGO Worlds and LEGO Jurassic World. And I always unlock everything in them. I’ll go ahead and be bold and make a prediction for hitting another ten grand, which will happen by…March 2018. Mel is going with April 2018. We’ll see.

And now, to stay on theme, please leave me either exactly 80,000 comments below or one comment with exactly 80,000 words. I’m fine with whatever happens first. You all now have the power.

LEGO Star Wars is from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away

I’ve not played every single LEGO video game out there, but I’ve gone through a good amount, most of which were in order of release. For me, it began with LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game back on the PlayStation 2, but it’s probably more accurate to say that the starting point for the evolution of these LEGO video games from TT Games began with LEGO Indiana Jones 2: The Adventure Continues. That’s where you began to see things like an enlarged hub world to explore and a split-screen camera option for when playing with a co-op partner, both of which have become mainstays for the series. Going back to play LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga recently has shown me just how far the series has come, for better or…no, just better. It’s only gotten better.

That’s not to say LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga is a bad game or un-fun. Mel and I have been having a good time completing levels, collecting studs, unlocking red bricks, buying multipliers, and revisiting areas for hidden collectibles. We chip away at the larger beast. The LEGO grind is here, but it’s enjoyable because, compared to LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens, not every level takes upwards of an hour to complete. Not every door requires you to solve a minigame to open it. Not every puzzle is dastardly obtuse. I guess there’s some worse in the newer entries after all.

LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga is basically a compilation of LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game and its sequel LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy, that way you can play through them all together using one single product. Which is good for us because I only ever played through the former of those two, and Mel played the latter with her brother many moons ago. So we both got to experience some new areas together. Also, the game incorporates two previously deleted levels–“Anakin’s Flight” and “Bounty Hunter Pursuit”–though I’m only finding out about this now. Many other levels were redesigned and updated so that both games worked with each other and felt unified. Either way, the games follow the movies, which means you’ll get to see the exciting Trade Federation negotiations go down, young Anakin grow up, watch Luke learn about his father and The Force, and see Ewoks take down the Empire with sticks and stones. Since this is an older entry in the series, the cutscenes are wordless reproductions, but still silly when they want to be.

Here’s something I didn’t expect to ever say: Jar Jar Binks is essential. Early on, his ability to both double jump and jump high is pivotal for getting some hidden minikits, red bricks, or blue studs, which are the ones worth the most money. We brought him into every level we could during Free Play. I do miss the camera that would split in half and allow both players to do their own desires; here, you are stuck to each other, and often it made things easier for one player to simply drop out then for both to jump across sinking platforms floating in red-hot lava. Also, the flying levels are a struggle, especially when you need to get from point A to point B with missiles or a bomb being dragged behind you, and the whole world is out to make you explode. Later, we managed to make a door glitch out and not open despite doing everything right because glitches need stitches. Or something like that. Sorry, I didn’t know how to end that sentence.

We’re currently around the 65% completion mark, with several more levels to fully finish. Then there are special levels to do after you complete everything else, as well as challenges, arcade mode, playing online, gold bricks to buy, characters and vehicles to unlock, special cross-over Achievements to pop, and so on. Only after all that, after we see that 100.0% high in the sky, can we happily put LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga to bed. Still, this has been good co-op fun, which is not bad in July 2017 for the 23rd greatest video game of all time, according to the Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition in 2009.

Gears of War 3 has bigger problems than just the Lambent


I beat Gears of War 3‘s campaign the other night, on the normal difficulty, and the hardest part was at the very beginning, when our gallant troop of four from the Delta Squad–Marcus Fenix, Dominic Santiago, Anya Stroud, and Jayson Stratton specifically–would run up to the deck of the Sovereign and stare in astonishment at a surprise attack from the Lambent. You can see this depicted in the picture above. Trust me when I say I’ve also stared at it a whole bunch because it is this point in time that the game decided to freeze for me on multiple occasions, hard-locking the entire Xbox One and forcing me to do a reboot. I’m not sure if this was a common happening in the original launch version or has something to do with it being backwards-compatible, but either way…yuck.

Because I’m slightly loopy and couldn’t help myself, I began tracking the number of Xbox One hard-freezes I hit in Gears of War 3:

  • Act 1 – FOUR
  • Act 2 – ONE
  • Act 3 – ONE
  • Act 4 – ZERO
  • Act 5 – ZERO

Now, six hard locks on the console might not seem like a lot in the grand scheme of things, but it is more than enough to be irksome. Especially for a game of this quality and number of people working on it. Thankfully, as you saw, it was more problematic at the start and steadied itself by the middle of the campaign, which meant I could focus more on shooting monsters in the face and less panicking every time a cutscene started.

Right. Gears of War 3 plot summary time. So, the Lambent launch a surprise attack. Before dying, Chairman Prescott gives Marcus an encryption to a disc, which reveals that his father, Adam Fenix, is still alive, but held as a prisoner on Azura, a secret COG base. Marcus and his pals then must fight their way to the Anvil Gate Fortress, where Hoffman possesses the necessary equipment to fully decrypt Prescott’s disc. Upon arriving at Anvil Gate, Marcus and his comrades assist soldiers in repelling a combined Lambent and Locust assault. There, they also learn that Azura is protected by man-made hurricane generators, making the island only accessible by submarine. The basic goal of the game is getting to Adam Fenix, with four and three-fourth acts or so of roadblocks that deter our protagonists into other areas first. Because videogames.

Gears of War 3 plays pretty similar to Gears of War 2 and Gears of War. I know, you’re shocked. Shook, even. You might also be surprised to learn that it does not exactly play like Gears of War 4 and that I had some trouble switching between the two. Like, I won’t even tell you the number of times I tried to run up to cover and mantle over it. I won’t. It also seems to move slower compared to the newest entry, and there’s no knife melee kill much to my chagrin. As previously mentioned, I played through on the normal difficulty and didn’t have any problems with the combat, occasionally dying to a well-placed Boomer shot or someone chainsawing me unexpectedly. There are a few vehicle sequences that are merely okay, though I felt like the submarine section towards Azura could have used more punch.

I don’t have any plans to play through the game again on a higher up difficulty, but I might check out the first few levels once more via the arcade mode, which basically scores every action you do. I’m currently going back to select chapters (on casual, you nerfherder!) to find all the collectibles and lost COG tags because I already stumbled upon a good chunk of them my first time through, so I might as well finish the job. A few of these shimmery items are hidden pretty well, so I’m referencing a guide here and there. No shame about it. It’s actually going faster than I initially expected, which makes me want to pop back into Gears of War 2 and Gears of War to grab their respective sets of collectibles. Once I start, I often can’t stop. I really do like how well Gears of War 3 monitors and tracks your progress, from collectibles to executions done to Achievement progress. It’s a small detail, but much appreciated.

After this, while I continue to chip away at Gears of War 4‘s multiplayer modes of Team Deathmatch and Dodgeball infrequently, I’ll eventually need to try out the black sheep of the series. Yup, the dreaded Gears of War: Judgment. I at least hope we get to learn more about where Damon Baird got his infamous goggles. At the very least.