Preview: Early playtime with Evolve – Big Alpha

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Today Turtle Rock Studios, the awesome game developers that helped bring us the great Co-op game Left 4 Dead and its sequel, released the Evolve – Big Alpha.  This new game, Evolve, pits four human controlled hunters against and evolving human controlled monster.  The game is focused on co-operative gameplay and if you try to go it alone, you will fail.  Guaranteed.

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The basis of the game has four Hunters against one Monster.  The four hunters try to kill the monster before it can either kill all the hunters or evolve to Stage 3 and destroy a power plant.

The hunters have four different classes:  Medic, Trapper, Support, and Assault. Each class has its own perks guns or abilities, but to get full use out of these, you need to combine the efforts of each character.  You can use the Trapper so set harpoon line traps hold the Monster to one spot and release a shield dome to contain the monster in a small portion of the map so it is unable to escape while you try to kill it.  The Assault class is your main offence against the monster, with two different guns and mines, while the Support class has an energy shield that can be used to protect allies as well as a bomb strike, used to drop heave explosions on a user designated spot.  The Medic is self-explanatory, as there is a healing gun and burst ability to heal your allies and yourself.  The medic also uses a tranquilizer gun to mark and slow the Monster as well as a sniper rifle to hurt and mark points of weakness for the others to shoot at.

 Individually, each player can do little to combat the Monster, but putting all the abilities and guns together gives you a chance to win.  I was in a game where my fellow players all quit, and I was left to face a Stage 3 Monster solo.  I did not fare well.  I was unable to do any damage at all.  The AI bots were not the smartest, so it is best to play with other people.  Players can join in the game at any time and take over a bot but in this case, nobody joined me.  The game really does limit individual play and force you to stick together to defeat the monster, which I like.  It keeps players from running out solo and leaving the rest running around lost as to what to do.  Co-op that enforces co-op play.  Good work Turtle Rock.

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The Monster has several abilities and starts the game at Stage 1, its weakest form.  By killing and consuming the wildlife on the map, the monster can evolve to stages 2 and finally 3.  Each stage increases the armour and life gauge of the Monster as well as allowing upgrade points to its abilities.  The abilities depend on the Monster as there are several types but each Monster has four abilities.  The Goliath, the first monster available in the Alpha, has Rock Throw, Leap Smash, Fire Breath and Charge as its abilities.  Each is pretty self-explanatory.  The Kraken, which appears to be available as unlockable in the Alpha, has Lightning Strike, Banshee Mines, Aftershock and Vortex as its abilities.  The Kraken has the ability to fly where the Goliath can climb anything on the map.

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The game takes a little getting used to but when you play any of the five characters, Hunters or the Monster, you feel equally powered and the game is fun when playing as any of them.

The game has a good progressions system for levelling up, and after each game, you will see your success reflected in your upgrades.  Each gun and ability has room for an increase and each character does as well.  Racking up the experience and stats for each hunter type will allow for a new character skin and abilities to be unlocked.

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I have only had a few hours with the game but I am impressed.  I was looking forward to this game when I saw gameplay and interviews at this year’s E3 and it looks to be on the right path.  The game is very smooth and clean considering it is an Alpha, and I have high hopes for it when it is released in early 2015.

*****Unfortunately Xbox doesn’t allow me to take screenshots, so these pictures were all done with my phone.

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The Horror-Survival Genre’s Rise From the Ashes

Resident Evil 4 … what horror is there in an RPG vs. a group of monks?

When I was in high-school, I can remember pulling all-nighters with my buddy playing Resident Evil on Gamecube.  The graphics, compared to more recent iterations of the franchise, and the game may not have been the easiest to control, but I still remember it being one of the best scary games I have played.  There are still moments from it that stick with me.  There was a hallway that had a wall on one side, and windows on the other and as you walked down it, a zombified dog crashed through the window and attacked you.  It scared the hell out of us when we played it the first time.  But that’s what the older horror games did.  They used small things to scare you.  As the genre became more and more popular, and to fight against popular games like Halo or Call of Duty, developers moved away from this traditional gameplay style to something that I think ruined the games.

Resident Evil (Gamecube)

Developers moved towards the Dead Rising kind of gameplay where instead of small things scaring you, you were swarmed with enemies and your biggest fear was dying without having saved or reached a checkpoint.  To me, this type of game was less scary and more annoying.  Even the beloved Resident Evil franchise moved towards this with RE4, 5 and 6.  Zombies changed from slow moving brain-eaters to weird, super zombies that could run, climb and jump and turned into strange creatures and monsters.  I suppose these creatures themselves looked scary but gameplay itself was annoying, just running back and around corners and shooting as they came in hordes.

What I miss from the horror genre was what the original Resident Evil gave.  Fixed cameras and the sense of, “what the hell was that?”  A strange noise followed by one zombie coming around a blind corner.  That was startling, that was scary.  Adding to the survival aspect of the game, not only did you have to survive zombies and monsters, but the original RE made you find typewriter ink reels in order to save your game.  This meant that saving was up to you and could either reward or punish, depending on how smartly you saved.  Running out of ink reels was scary as hell, way more than seeing twenty zombies running at you.

Although it appeared that the horror genre was killing itself, some new games have come to rescue it, to pull that gun out of its own mouth and back at the enemies coming towards you.  Some of these games include The Evil Within, Outlast, Dying Light, Alien Isolation and Silent Hills.  These are games reverting back to the actual horror and scare tactics of the old generations.

Outlast

The Evil Within

Outlast found you moving through an asylum, coming across enemies randomly, but the key was that you had extremely limited combat meaning you would have to run like hell to escape an oncoming enemy rather than just blast it away with a shotgun.  This is true survival and horror.  Knowing you cannot defend yourself and must still carry onward to complete the game.  The Evil Within has similar gameplay where you must decide between fight or flight in order to stay alive.  You do not have endless ammo or powerful guns that can obliterate enemies.

Dying Light

Dying Light sticks with the zombie genre but gives you full first person action and gets you up close and personal with the zombies, traditional zombies, going after you.  While fighting them off in the daytime while parkouring around the city is pretty calm, when night falls, the game gets eerie and creepy and adds a whole new scare to the experience.  What was fine in the light an hour ago is now mysterious and haunting in the dark.

Alien Isolation

Alien Isolation takes us back to the 80’s aboard the space ship that brought us the first xenomorph from Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise.  Here is what I like:  there is one xenomorph and it is pretty much invincible.  Yeah.  So while you can acquire a gun or weapons of some sort in the game, that xenomorph is still scary as hell and forces you to play a hide and seek game with it every time you hear that creepy rattle and hiss.

These games prove it possible to scare the gamer without extravagant monsters and hordes of enemies.  Sometimes it is just the vastness and lonliness that can scare you.  Not knowing what might be ahead or knowing that there is one horrible thing waiting for you brings the most terror to the game.

Silent Hills – that woman…dammit..

Though that may seem a nice conclusion, I cannot refrain from at least mentioning Silent Hills which is a new game and reboot for the Silent Hill series.  This one comes from director Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) and Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear Solid franchise), and the two have said that aim to make the scariest game possible no matter the consequence, even if nobody plays it.  But let’s be real, with those two at the helm, people will play it.  And people did when the playable demo hit the PS4 this summer.  An L shaped hallway with a bathroom was all the level was and it was one of the scariest things I have watched.  Perfectly creepy, startling, terrorizing and frightful.  The full game can only get better and I cannot wait to play it…with the lights on in the middle of the day with 10 people around me.

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NHL 15 – like that 1st over all draft pick that has a career in the minors.

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There was time when I bought an NHL video game every year. I am a hockey nut and I love the game so I need my fix of puck any way I can get it. I used to buy EA’s games every year, but around 2002, they began to turn into an arcade type hockey game and I made the switch to the 2k franchise. I stuck with them for five years until EA revamped their game and turned it back into a realistic hockey sim. But for the 2012, 2013 season, I did not buy any NHL game. The 2k franchise was dead and EA was, again, turning into a more arcade style of game. I prefer to play as realistic a game as possible and once again, EA was shying away from that in favour of ridiculous dekes, huge fights and a focus on fantasy teams.

And so I figured another year would come to pass where I did not buy an NHL game, but along came the next-gen consoles and I got myself an Xbox One and looked forward to what EA would do with the new tech. As trailers and developer videos came out, I got more and more excited. They were going for a realistic experience, finally! An overhaul to the broadcast team and presentation, ramped up graphics, taking advantage of the new tech, more natural deke moves, hits, physics and living arenas were all in store for the new game. I was so ready for the next-gen hockey game, that I played the demo, and despite some shortcomings, that I cracked up to it being a demo, bought the game. And I’m glad I got it on sale, because it really, again, falls short of what it could have been.

EA made a deal with NBC Sports to use their team for the game’s broadcast team and that is brilliant. The NHL series needed this change to happen about ten years ago, and finally the motion was carried out. Doc Emmerich, Eddie Olcyzk and Ray Ferraro make for a real, television-like presentation, even though it isn’t perfect due to saying the wrong thing at times, having “dead air” during games and a lack of proper emotion for the calls at times. But it is still miles better than what the previous commentary was like.

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The graphics too, are quite well done as the ice gets carved up and snow builds up as the period progresses, and they even went as far as to show a “dry scrape” down the centre of the rink for shootouts. The player models look good, though still move awkwardly and there is a lot of clipping, where players bump through each other, the boards or the ice. The game does look next-gen but until EA can realize the power of the next-gen consoles, the true potential of the graphics stays hidden.

There are problems with the game, and to be clear, I do not expect a perfect game, but when you retail for $69.99 plus tax, I expect something near perfect. Some of the issues may be fixed through patches and updates, but things like settings not saving, bad goals due to players clipping, stats not showing during games in the Be A GM mode are quite annoying and should not be in a final release of the game. But my biggest issue, is what EA tried to advertise as their best next-gen experience: The Living Arenas.

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EA spent time detailing the 30 arenas in the NHL, and I’m sure, the other rinks through the AHL league, and some generic ones for the rest of the teams featured in the game. But EA made the claim that the crowds would be into the game, jumping and celebrating and causing a raucous during the game, making the arena feel alive. Their mood would change based on the on-ice events. This happens, but in a minor way and I really can’t see any difference from previous games. A big cheer follows a goal or a fight, but they are quickly followed by deathly silence. I’ve been to numerous NHL games in several NHL arenas and though there are moments of hushed silence and tension, people are always yelling, talking, chanting or cheering. I expected this in the game, but was disappointed. The arenas do not feel alive. There are “crazy fans” painted up or with signs that are shown after a goal is scored, and there are “over 9000 individual fan models” in each arena, but you only feel that the arena is populated by emotionless people. The jump up after a goal is scored, and that looks great, but that emotion is short lived. There is no cheer or chant afterwards, even for goals in overtime, or late tying goals or even 6-0 routs, the crowd just isn’t there. Get Stamkos to score a hat-trick, and the only way you know is a nod to it by the commentators. No hats thrown on the ice, no alternative cut-scene of celebration. That I cannot excuse. Neither can I excuse the lack of team-specific chants, such as “Go Leafs Go” or “Let’s go Red Wings.” The FIFA franchise by EA has team specific chants, so it can obviously be done, and when EA promises living lively arenas, how they can leave out something like that baffles me.

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Now, another issue with this “living arenas” is the arenas themselves. I’m sure all the graphic designers and coders spent weeks getting each arena to be accurate to its real life counterpart, but all this work is lost in the game due to darkness. Other than the ice surface and the first, let’s say, thirty rows of fans, the entire arena is cast in dark shadows that hide everything. I figure that EA did this so that they didn’t have to fully generate a perfect, 100% replica of the arena in game. Since the majority is hidden in the shadows, they didn’t need to actually make the fans there or proper parts of the arena because you’ll never see it. This is extremely disappointing as no NHL arena is this dark. Sure, the upper levels may be darker, but the game makes it out like the teams forgot to pay power bills. Only half the arena is lit, so half the fans sit in darkness and this makes the arena feel empty, sad, and depressing. These arenas are vibrant, lively, and exciting, or at least they are supposed to be. This needs to be fixed if EA really want the arenas to feel alive and full of emotion, because right now a funeral has more emotion than these NHL arenas.

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Another qualm I have is with the celebrations for goals. There are custom celebrations you can initiate by pressing a button on the controller, after which the goal scorer will hug a random teammate on the ice. Hockey is a team game, and if you watch any game on TV and tell me that only two of the players on the ice during a goal come together for a celebration, I know you are lying. Every player on the ice gets together for a group hug, high-fives, head taps or fist-bumps. Yet, in the game, only two ever come together. In a developer diary, EA even said, “celebrate with your teammates on the ice,” but apparently they forgot about the other 3 players. While two hug, the other three stand awkwardly beside or ignore them altogether and just head to the bench. So much for the realistic game.

So once again, I play this game only thinking of what it could have been rather than what a great game it is. Hopefully EA is listening to the community and hopefully they can make changes so that maybe, just maybe, next year’s game will be better. But for now, I am left with a feeling as empty as the arenas. I enjoy playing the game, but all the problems are just a reminder that this game could have been more. Unfortunately, EA has no competition in the market for their NHL franchise, so they do not feel the pressure to make that perfect game. This ends my rant and hopefully someone out there agrees with me, and someone from EA listens.

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Blue Eyes

Thought I posted this, but can’t “see” it…irony

 

deep like despair but I do not fall
blue like the ocean but I do not drown
sharp like the blade but I am not cut
bright like the sun but I am not blinded
intense like fire but I am not burned
methodic, melodic, they open and close
pushing away and pulling in
my mouth agape
no air escapes
the here and now is all that is
no past or future
i see through the truth and lies
all this I see in her crystal blue eyes

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Top Gear’s Best Challenges

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Why I think the Lego Movie will be Awesome!

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Christmas Nostalgia

Nostalgia is a hard concept to grasp when you are a child.  You haven’t lived long enough to fully appreciate what it is.  Nostalgia is that feeling of looking back fondly on old memories and placing yourself in those memories.  You remember the sights and sounds, the smells and the touch of the things around you.  The problem with nostalgia is that as a child, you don’t appreciate it and you won’t for years to come, and unless you prepared for those later years, you may have nothing to look back on.  You may not have to wait until your 60s to feel a wave of nostalgia wash over you, but nostalgia may hit you in your mid-twenties as it does me, and especially around Christmas.  I was lucky enough to have a father that wanted memories and something to look back on.  To me, the events he set up were a pain, and prevented me from playing video games, or with my action figures, but I can wholly appreciate what he was doing now that I have reached the right age.  You see, my dad used his video camera to make memories, especially at Christmas.  He wanted something for us to remember.

On Christmas Eve, before my brother and I were sent to our rooms to fall asleep, but instead would lie there for hours dreaming of the presents waiting for us under the tree, my brother and I would sit in the family room on the floor in front of our dad sitting in his wingback chair.  The video camera set up in the opposite corner, recording the three of us as my dad read ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.  My brother and I would sit there fidgeting and wondering what the point of it all was, other than we did it every year.  I never really knew why other than dad wanted it done, so we did it.

On Christmas morning, after waking up way too early, lying in bed for another hour until forcing my parents and brother awake, I would wait at the top of the stairs until my dad gave the all-clear.  This meant that the camera was set up in the family room, ready to capture the morning’s events, the revealing of what Santa Claus had brought, the un-stuffing of stockings, and the unwrapping of presents.  At the time I saw it as a cool way to remember what I got for Christmas each year and so we never put up a fuss.

Now that I have reached my mid-twenties, I certainly feel old, though don’t let anyone over thirty hear you complain about your twenties for they will give you a look so cold and worn that you will instantly regret saying anything, and I am glad for my father’s persistence on recording our Christmases.  I’ve reached the age when Santa no longer visits me and it gives me a warm and comforting feeling to watch the old tapes and remember what it felt like to be a kid, so full of awe and wonder at the mystery of Santa, and filled with the joy and excitement of opening and playing with new toys.

My father passed a little over two years ago and this will be the third Christmas without him and I am so grateful he recorded those Christmas Eves and Mornings because it give me and my family a chance to spend Christmas with him again.  The sense of nostalgia brought on by those Christmas home movies is overwhelming.  Christmas is a time to be with your family and to make lasting memories.  Just don’t forget to remember them later.

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