Video Game Review: Bully: Scholarship Edition

Details: Was originally released in 2006. I played it on PC with an Xbox 360 controller. I bought it off Steam for about $5. Played for about twenty hours. Made by Rockstar Games.

Most of the time, playing this game felt like a chore. This is a really old game.

Firstly, the visuals are actually not bad. This game originally came out for the PS2, which was a freaking long time ago. Luckily they up resolution-ed the game and gave it a 1080p resolution, so it looked fine on my screen. It is definitely dated though.

Gameplay was the most painful part of this game. It is essentially a combination of mini-games. In general, you run around like in a Grand Theft Auto game, more like Grand Theft Auto III and less like Grand Theft Auto V. Some of the mini games involve timed button presses, like in rhythm games. There’s also trivia and some other tracing varieties. There’s a lot of mini-games, but they aren’t very deep or substantial. The difficulty is also pretty easy, easier than a Grand Theft Auto game at least.

My biggest annoyances were that the game broke two cardinal rules of video games. The game operates on a timer that goes in real-time. At certain times you need to do certain things and there is generally a time limit on a lot of missions. The other violation is the inclusion of missions where you need protect someone controlled by shitty artificial intelligence. That means that the computer controlled character will run off and get killed regardless of what you do sometimes. There are a lot of other shitty things about this game. You should just keep in mind that this game is old and a lot of the gameplay used in this game has been removed from most modern games because developers realized how not fun they were.

The music for this game was fantastic. I was surprised how many good, original tracks there were.

The voice acting and performances were as good as any other Rockstar game, which is to say they were great. I was surprised to see that motion capture was used in this game despite how old it is. That motion capture really comes through and adds to the performances surprisingly, even though the character models are old looking.

There are some bugs. The game crashed on me lots of times throughout my play through.

The story was okay. The premise is this: Jimmy Hopkins is sent to one of the craziest boarding schools and must do his best to survive in this strange new environment. I did feel a sense of satisfaction after seeing the ending. However, there were lots of times where I wanted to quit the game. I mainly pushed on because I like finishing games. The story was not strong enough to compel me to keep playing.

While not a bad game, I would not recommend it to most people. The game is so old and outdated that I’d rather recommend something more recent. I can see how some people might enjoy it though. If it looks interesting to you, then you should probably go on YouTube and watch some gameplay videos before making the purchase.

Score: 4/10

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Video Game Review: Batman: Arkham Origins

Details: Played on the PC and through Steam with a Xbox 360 controller. I bought the game and the season pass (that means all the DLC) for about ten dollars from http://www.bundlestars.com. Took me about twenty six hours to get through the game and the Cold, Cold Heart DLC. About twenty three hours were spent on the main game and three hours on the Cold, Cold Heart DLC. Important: there is no online multiplayer. I read somewhere that the servers that supported multiplayer went down. If you buy this game, you are only paying for the single player portion. There were some minor bugs.

I originally dismissed this game and was never going to play it because it was the one Batman game that was not made by Rocksteady. After playing through Batman: Arkham Knight and hearing all the references that were made to this game and that Arkham: Origins is canon, I changed my mind.

This is a good game and it holds up really well despite it’s age. My biggest mistake was to play this game after playing Arkham Knight. Arkham Knight is undoubtedly a better game; it looks better, plays better, story… is a little better. So when I started this game, it was undeniable that this game looked worse, felt worse, and just lacked what Arkham Knight had. However, after a few hours, I got over and really enjoyed the game.

Gameplay is derivative, if you’ve played any of the Batman: Arkham games, you’ll know what your getting into. In fact, gameplay is almost identical to Arkham City. The same gadgets are used as are the enemy types your fight. If your unfamiliar with the Arkham series, gameplay is divided into a few types. First, there’s stealth, where you try to clear and area of enemies without being detected. Then there’s the free flow combat which generally consists of trying to dodge, counter, and chain together enough attacks so that you can land your finishing attack. Boss fights generally consist of a combination of combat and stealth. There are some puzzles and platforming.

There are also investigation portions where you investigate a crime scene and try to recreate the crime. These portions of the game are minor, yet what I think this game does better and more often than any other game in the Arkham series. I think it often gets glossed over that Batman is a detective and it’s a lot of fun to try and solve crime mysteries and track down criminals. It adds color to the game to see Batman trying to solve crimes that are not necessarily of the super villain variety. Unfortunately, the crimes you solve are fairly repetitive and uniform.

Visually, the game looks great. The art direction is fine, although it’s not as detailed or filled in as a Rocksteady Arkham game. If you’re not as obsessive of a fan of Rocksteady as I am, you probably won’t even notice it so don’t worry about it.

The music is great. Loved all the tracks.

The story is surprisingly good. I was expecting something half assed, but it goes into a lot of Batman lore. It started a little slow, but built up and it was fun battling and interacting with the characters of this fictional world. The only nitpick I would point out is the reliance of pre-rendered cut scenes versus using the in game engine. I prefer Rocksteady’s method of showing off how good the game looks by using the in game engine for cut scenes. It’s also less jarring.

Furthermore, while I did enjoy the story, some of the big reveals/surprises were spoiled to me by various websites. I’d advise not spoiling the game for yourself if you intend on playing it. There are some plot twists and surprises which are worth preserving if you can.

The voice actors all do a great job. After three Arkham games, you just come to expect to hear Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill every time one of these games come out. That they are not present here is a little jarring. However, the lack of Kevin Conroy makes some narrative sense in that this is a prequel; Batman is younger so it kind of makes sense he sounds different.

Score: 7/10 I had fun with this game, especially since I only spent around ten dollars for it. I recommend it if you like the Batman Arkham games and can get it for around the same price.

Video Game Review: Assassin’s Creed: Freedom Cry

Details: Beat it in about five hours. I played the stand alone DLC, but if you buy the DLC that is not, then you will need Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag installed if you want to play this DLC. Played it on the PC. Purchased for $5.

I really enjoyed Freedom Cry. The problems I had with Black Flag were certainly still there. However, I bought Freedom Cry for one main reason: the story. I wanted more story that tied with the historical setting of the time. This game delivered that.

The story premise is this: Adwele, the first mate of Edward Kenway and member of the Assassins, is shipwrecked in a slave trading town. He meets the locals in an attempt to get back out to sea and return to the Assassins. In his efforts, he befriends and sympathizes with a slave rebellion in the town and takes up their cause.

One of the main draws of the Assassin’s Creed games is that it is educational. Often times, they take a historical event or attitude and immerse you in it, both introducing you to an idea and showing you how it may have felt to live in that era. Freedom Cry does a great job showing just a small slice of the slave trade of that time period and the attitudes present.

It’s a sensitive subject for various reasons. Movies and shows like Roots or 12 Years a Slave have done a great job showing some of the ugliness related to the slavery of that time period. People often criticize an exploration of these ideas because it is ugly, because some people still adhere to that racism and do not want it perceived negatively, and also because people who identify themselves with the countries that were responsible for slavery feel the cruelty and evil of that time is an insult to them personally and their national pride. For these reasons, I wanted to see this game even more because — while this is a fictional games — those attitudes were very real. For some people, they likely still are.

And you do feel the wrongness of the era through this game. The mental gymnastics necessary to justify enslaving a people are always ridiculous to see. The last few missions were particularly striking in how they illustrated just how little the slave overseers valued the lives of their slaves; they just didn’t think they were human. While the slavery of the colonial era is over, that kind of thinking and prejudice is powerful in that it often times rings familiar, even in the present day.

In regards to gameplay, it’s exactly the same as Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. In other words,  there is some sailing, some sneaking, and the same counter based combat from prior games.

The graphics are the same as Black Flag, which isn’t bad in my opinion because I thought Black Flag looked great for its time.

The music deserves special mention because I think all the tracks are new and not present in Black Flag. It’s mostly orchestral with some moving vocal portions that help immerse the player even more. The music is great.

Score: 6/10 Good downloadable content. I feel like it was worth the five dollars I paid, but the game unlikely justifies a penny higher than that.

Video Game Review: Batman: The Telltale Series, Episode 1

The first episode of Batman: The Telltale Series is free on the Windows store. You can play it on your Windows computer or on the Xbox I think. Here’s the link: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/store/p/batman-the-telltale-series/9nblggh4sq91

It is only free for four more days as of the writing of this post.

Here’s the review.

A while back I tried the Walking Dead series from Telltale Games and did not enjoy it. Since this episode of Telltales Batman was free, I decided to give their games a second chance.

If you aren’t familiar with their video game style, Telltale basically make adventure games that are reminiscent of the choose you adventure style books. You have limited control of your character and gameplay generally consists of quick time events and narrative decisions. Their most popular series relate to popular franchises like Game of Thrones, the Walking Dead, and Borderlands.

This episode is split into five chapters and the story starts from the beginning of Batman’s career. Bruce Wayne has been fighting crime as Batman for a bit of time now and is assisting Harvey Dent in his run for mayor of Gotham City. It’s clear that Batman has yet to run into any of his major super villains and in this first episode, he meets some of them for the first time.

What I like about this episode is that Telltale is clearly intent on rewriting the Batman history. Everything seems to be fair game from Batman’s parents to super villains back stories. You can tell that the characters will follow similar trajectories as their comic book or movie counterparts, but there will likely be some twists on those characters along the way.

In regards to the audio, the music and voice acting are great. I recognized the voices of Laura Bailey and Troy Baker and, as a fan of their work, enjoyed hearing them in this game.

In terms of gameplay, there was little to do. This is an unabashed adventure game. In other words, it’s your narrative decisions that matter, not your reflexes or skill. If you don’t like that, don’t play the game.

Score: 6.5/10 Not a bad start and actually got me wanting to buy the rest of the episodes. Hard to criticize a game that was free.

Video Game Review: Batman: Arkham Knight is the Best Game I’ve Played In Years

The caveat is that I have yet to play the Witcher 3. I’m playing that next. Some details: I played Batman: Arkham Knight for about fifty-six hours on the PC and the version I played was the Premium Edition, so I had all the downloadable content.

So I’m going to do a spoiler free write up first and I’ll write up some bullet points that may have spoilers after the score.

First and foremost, we have to talk about bugs and glitches. When Arkham Knight was released on PC last year, it was a disaster. The game had so many bugs and glitches that it was pretty much unplayable. So how does it play now, one year later? I am happy to say that while there are some bugs still in the game, it did not substantially affect my enjoyment of the game. For me, there were primarily two bugs: stuttering/frozen screen and sometimes the audio would cut out. And I have a GTX 1070, so I’m fairly sure it wasn’t the card. Anyways, while not the ideal scenario, the game was still playable and awesome.

Secondly, the visuals in this game are just amazing. When I started up the game, the first thing I noticed was just how awesome this game looked. This is not just because of detailed textures and graphics engine, but because of everything else. The art direction is just amazing. You can’t help but marvel at the detail that has been applied to this world. It’s clear when you drive through Gotham City’s streets that artists drew and designed every aspect of this city and the player’s experience benefits greatly from it. Furthermore, the animations are just fantastic. Most of the cut scenes are in-game because of how good everything looks and because of camera positioning and motion capture. This game just has a top notch presentation.

In regards to audio, the music is great. It’s not ground breaking, but it’s exactly the kind of dark, orchestral music you’d expect from a Batman story. If you’ve played any of the last three Arkham games, then you will be delighted to hear that familiar Batman theme play again.

Gameplay in this game can be broken down into a few parts. Firstly, there’s the polished, free flow combat system that originated in the Arkham series and was subsequently copied by many other games. At this point in time, the system just feels good and I think most returning fans expect this system to remain in the game, with some minor improvements. These minor improvements include the use of new gadgets during fights, the introduction of some new enemies, and the use of the environment to add variety to combat moves. There are a lot of challenge maps afterwards, and I played through some but not all of them. In my opinion, the main draw of playing some of these challenge maps is to see some locations that you would not see otherwise.

The second part of gameplay involves stealthily clearing a room of enemies. This is also a fan favorite and expected to return. Minor additions include the addition of new enemies that either restrict your use of abilities, enemies who revive fallen abilities, invisible enemies, drones, and those who must be taken out last lest the rest of the enemies be alerted. This game mode was already fun and the small additions are nice.

A minor addition that I enjoyed immensely was the inclusion of Batman’s allies (like Robin and Nightwing) in the combat and stealth portions. I felt like these were so fun that if Rocksteady explored this mechanic further, this could have been the cool, new thing in the place of the less fun Batmobile combat.

Third, there are puzzles. These usually involve gadgets , the Batmobile, and standing on platforms. I’m glad they included puzzles, but the puzzles along with Batmobile combat are the weakest parts of this game. Additionally, some of the Riddler puzzles are so elaborate they kind of break the fourth wall in that it would take years to construct something like this, much less underneath a city of skyscrapers.

The last and newest gameplay addition is the Batmobile. The Batmobile can be broken down into two parts: racing and combat. Racing is… racing. The only thing I will say about racing is that there are certain tracks outside the main game where you can race around in old Batmobiles (like Adam West’s Batmobile, Keaton’s Batmobile, or Bale’s Tumbler) around tracks that seem taken straight out of each Batmobile’s respective show. It’s a fun side activity where you get to hear the theme music from these old movies/shows. Except for Christian Bale’s Batman movies. I don’t think they got the music rights to use the theme from those movies. You get an imitation song instead on those tracks.

Batmobile combat is more complex and if you’ve read other reviews, Batmobile combat is the weakest aspect of this game. Unfortunately, I have to agree to an extent. I certainly don’t hate Batmobile combat. I still found it fun. It just wasn’t as fun as free flow combat or the stealth portions. Of note is that some Batmobile combat portions require stealth, which kind of contradicts the idea of driving this powerful, loud tank.

In regards to the story, it is mostly fantastic. I was worried when I heard Paul Dini did not work on this, but it was just fine without him. I’ll go into it more in the bullet points following the score.

A note about the DLC: I would not buy the downloadable content piecemeal, I would just buy the Premium Edition and get all the DLC at once. While most of the DLC is weak, the ones that are worth it to me are The Season of Infamy and Batgirl: A Matter of Family. The Season of Infamy is the better of the two.

Score: 9/10 Loved this game. There is no other game that makes you feel more like the Batman than this. There is no superhero game as good as this. It’s like playing an episode of the animated Batman cartoon or one of the movies. This was a great, narrative driven experience. Easily one of the best games I have ever played.

 

Now for some potentially spoiler filled bullet points:

  • The story for the most part is fantastic and does a great job pushing the player forward. The weakest part of the story was how predictable the identity of the Arkham Knight was and the ending. The ending wasn’t bad, it just didn’t have the impact that the ending of Arkham City had. Since this was the end of the Arkham trilogy, I was expecting more.
  • There are some twists in this story. The one that truly shocked me was the one involving Barbara Gordon. Unfortunately, this twist was predictably ruined by events later in the game.
  • I like that they included decisions in this game. Unfortunately, the only decision that mattered was the final choice in the Ra’s Al Ghul quest in The Seasons of Infamy DLC.
  • Once again, I must praise this game for how details oriented and visually pleasing it was. For example, Batman gets dosed with some fear gas and slowly starts hallucinating more and more Joker related stuff as the game progresses. Sometimes, you will turn away from a statue and when you turn back to look at it, it now has the Jokers face. Just little details like this add so much to the tone and immersion of this game.
  • I like the inclusion of the Joker hallucinations. I love Mark Hamill playing the Joker and I will take his performance any chance I get.
  • The side quests are some of the best parts of this game. A lot of the plot lines planted in prior Arkham games are resolved in the side quests. Some of them are kind of bare, but it’s nice to see these characters in the game. I was particularly surprised by the inclusion of some new enemies from the comic books that fans of the old, animated series would not be familiar with. Professor Pyg in particular was cool.
  • I hoped in my heart of hearts that the Arkham Knight was not who I thought it was. Unfortunately, it was exactly who I thought it was. This was a missed opportunity to introduce a new twist that could have blown players’ minds. Instead, we walk the same, well trodden path that other writers have taken us down before. This sucked.
  • I like how in the Arkham series, you generally get to keep all the gadgets you found in the prior Arkham games. It really helps maintain the narrative integrity of the game and maintain the immersion.
  • I was disappointed that Gotham City is mostly empty. According to the story, the city was evacuated because of the threat from Scarecrow. Which if fine I guess. I would’ve loved to play in a living world with civilians and muggers though.
  • Batman doesn’t kill, but I’m pretty sure that running someone over and shooting them with a tank’s cannon would kill them. Just saying, “nonlethal” rounds shouldn’t be able to magically explain away everything. I do understand the conflict between making driving a tank fun while following Batman’s no kill mandate.