review

Civilization: Beyond Earth – I wanna party with Colbert and Johansson

ColbertLet me get one thing straight: I am not a Civilization fanboy. In fact, I’ve gotten into the franchise pretty late. As a wee boy, my dad thought to be a good father by getting a copy of one of the Civ games for me, but back then I lost interest in a game when it had me do nothing for more than a millisecond. It was not until a few years ago, when Steam put a hefty discount on the franchise, thus practically forcing me to try a game that many claimed to be better than a night with Stephen Colbert, Scarlett Johansson and an unlimited supply of pina coladas.

Well, the games are not better than that (I assume), but they are pretty damn good. When Civilization: Beyond Earth was announced, I was pretty hyped. Now that I had the chance to spend a few hours with the future of strategy games, does the newcomer live up to the standards set by his predecessors? All I will say for now is that it still isn’t as good as a night out with two celebs and tons of alcohol, but which game is?

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Destiny: $500 million revenue can’t guarantee a good story.

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Like a large part of the PS4 owners, I’ve been busy shooting aliens and saving Earth in Bungie’s record-breaking new first-person shooter Destiny. Trying themselves at a RPG shooter a la Borderlands, Bungie sure knew how to turn on the hype machine, generating more than $500 million revenue on release day. Being already the most pre-ordered game in the history of video games, this number is not surprising, but still impressive.

I’ve contributed my part to that ridiculous revenue, and I would be lying if I would tell you I haven’t enjoyed myself so far. Destiny is, without a doubt, a very entertaining shooter with a dash of MMORPG loot and grind. Controls are smooth, the game looks absolutely stunning and the gameplay itself is more than a good foundation for future expansions. Regarding those aspects, I don’t regret spending $60 on the game. However, there is one thing that just bugs me.

You see, the game is made by Bungie, the studio that has created the award-winning, genre-defining Halo series. Next to reviving the shooter genre on consoles and giving us the amusing Red vs. Blue show, Halo is still known for its gripping story, interesting characters and overall great writing (especially when compared with other FPS). It’s not in my Top 5 of best games I’ve ever played, but Halo 2 is one of my favorite shooters ever and that’s not just because I could stick grenades to my friend’s faces. No, Halo 2 had a thrilling story, which was supported by the individual missions you went through and that kept you wanting more. When the game ended with one of the most gruesome cliffhangers since pixels learned how to move, I was both enraged and satisfied, demanding another helping of such excellent storytelling.

Destiny just hasn’t given me this experience yet. I’ve finished all the story missions, and to be honest with you…they are boring. The writers show us all these interesting story hooks and then decide to not do anything with them! That Warmind Rasputin? Mentioned, but it never plays a role in the story. That badass queen and her Fallen bodyguards? Oh, they look sweet and all in the cutscene, but they won’t be back until Bungie runs her event. The actual motivations of any of the enemy factions? What, they try to destroy Earth! Isn’t that all you need?!

Of course, certain hooks hopefully remain unused so they can play a role in some DLC or expansion. However, not giving a single faction any motivation beyond “they want to kill humanity / the Traveler / both” is just unsatisfying and lame. If I’m going to fight something, I want to know what it’s planning and how that affects me. Why did the Fallen ever attack Earth? Why aren’t we exploring that in the missions in Old Russia? Is there any other reason for them to fight the Vex on Venus beyond “the Vex are more evil than all the other evil in the universe”? So far, all we get is some vague info during cutscenes and on some Grimoire cards, but that just is not enough. For a game that calls itself the most expensive video game production ever, I feel like just a nickel and a dime went to the writing department.

All I can hope for Destiny is that future content gives us some more information on the actual universe and what everything does there. Grinding faction reputation to get that sweet weapon can only keep me busy for so long. Once I have that weapon, I want to bust some aliens, and I want to know why I should bust them.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2: an exercise in writing

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POSSIBLY SPOILERS FOR AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 AHEAD!

Hey, remember back in high school when you had to hand in assignments for your literature class? You know, the ones requiring you to write your own short story, following the “rules of writing” you had been discussing in class for the last three weeks? And remember how you would get your short story back, with a remark of the teacher saying: “good overall story, but a piss-poor ending that made me angry enough to shout at strangers in the street”?

No? That never happened to you? Well, it might have happened to the writers of The Amazing Spider-Man back in 2012. Not in their literature class, but after hearing the opinions the audience had about The Amazing Spider-Man, director Mark Webb probably realized his writers needed some more time to up their skills and let them go. Had the new writers for the screenplay handed their work over to a literature teacher, he had probably told them that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 had a grandiose ending full of possibilities for sequels, but still had asked them to re-write the script. Why? Because the first eighty percent of it are boring, uninspired and just awkward.

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Tomb Raider – an unexpected nice snack from my gaming buffet

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I recall this statistic that the majority of gamers don’t finish most of the games they buy. Sadly, I have to face the fact that I belong to that part of the community. With all these sweet titles coming out, it’s hard to finish one before the next one is begging for your attention. To me, it feels like paying for a meal I won’t finish, because someone was so kind to order another, even better looking plate for me. Well, I should just accept my gaming life has turned into a running buffet, and I shouldn’t wait finishing my plate when I can just throw something else good-looking on it. Following that philosophy, I decided to get myself a helping of Tomb Raider. How was it? Better than expected.

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Why the Lego Movie is pure genius

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When it comes to movies, I’m a really, really critical kind of viewer. The moment the credits start rolling, I start to analyze every tiny bit of a flick, stating out loud whether it worked or didn’t. I comment every casting choice, every piece of scenery and every special effect, no matter how tiny or trivial. When a movie sucks, I’m the first to voice my opinion and give you a dozen reasons why I’m right. I don’t care we’ve changed the topic fifteen minutes ago, you need to know why this was a waste of moving pictures and I will be heard!

When The Lego Movie started rolling, I was prepared to write some piece about how Hollywood turned my fond childhood memories into a mediocre animation movie. Sure, the internet had told me that the movie was pure awesomeness, but what do some peasants on message boards know? How could their opinion be more valid than my own, being the important and brilliant part-time blogger that I am?

Well, turns out that, for once, I could believe the blaring of the sheep. Even better, the praise sung for The Lego Movie is not in proportion to the brilliance of the movie, and here you will find out why!

BE WARNED: HERE BE SPOILERS!

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First impressions from the Starbound beta

starbound screenshot mushroom house

Living in a mushroom: because why the hell not?

If you’re not like me, you actually pay attention to what fellow bloggers write. Not that I don’t read the posts of the people I follow, ’cause I do. I enjoy all the blogs I read, but sometimes, things slip past my radar. One of those things was the enthusiasm and anticipation about the beta of the indie title Starbound. Apparently, fellow blogs like Healing the masses, Murf vs. Internet and even Bio Break had been giving some spotlight to this gem, but being the absent-minded nerd that I am, that completely passed me. Fortunately I picked up on it a day before beta landed, fetched me some keys, and dived right into it. Am I glad that my fellow bloggers reminded me of it? Well, guys and gals…thank you.

Really, thank you.

Starbound is, even in this early beta, really enjoyable. If you’ve ever played Terraria, you will feel right at home. The cool thing is that in this game, you’re not stuck to a single biome. Instead, you can hop on your spaceship and cruise of to other planets, which will have different landscapes, villages and randomly generated monsters. Wait, did you just hear me say the word “spaceship”? Yep, ’cause in Starbound, every character has his own spaceship waiting to be used as a storage room and vehicle to discover new worlds. I figure that you’re also able to upgrade your ship, but I haven’t gotten to that point yet.

Anyhow, Starbound combines the digging-and-crafting aspects from Terraria with a futuristic touch, even allowing you to create your character from one of six races. Small touches like the genders of the races (the Glitch, a robotic people, can either be sockets or plugs) or funny posters hidden in randomly generated buildings give the game its own kind of humour.

Being just a few hours in and just messing around, I can’t find too many negative things about the game. True, some monsters can be really annoying and hard to kill, and especially the early part of the game can be frustrating until you have some tools and weapons, but all of that feels like it’s part of the game. I mean, you are exploring and colonizing a strange and dangerous planet. No one ever said that would be a walk in the park.

If you’re curious to check the game yourself, you can get a beta key on Steam. In my opinion, you could waste your money on a lot of worse things than Starbound, so if you can spare those fourteen Euros, hop into your spaceship and start digging!

Why Hemlock Grove leaves me confused

So, Netflix. Who hasn’t heard of it? About a month ago, it finally came to the Netherlands, and being the movie and TV show lover that I am, I fetched me a free month and started browsing the collection. I decided to start with a Netflix original show, and I was about to dive into the popular Orange Is The New Black. However, before I could start that show featuring Donna and her nude chest, I stumbled across another Netflix production. One based on a book. One that had a badass show poster: Hemlock Grove.

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Pokémon X and Y – childhood that never leaves

“Bulbasaur” by nicholaskole

For the first time since my childhood, I’ve become a Pokémon Champion. Though I’ve dabbled in many other Pokémon games, Pokémon Y is the first title of the franchise since Blue where I have smacked the Elite Four and the Champion. When I succeeded just a few hours ago, I had the urge to leap out of my seat, run towards my mom and shout “Look, ma, I’m the Champion! I did it!”

Except that I don’t live with my parents anymore. But I leapt out of my seat anyway.

This childish rush, born from the victory over a bunch of pixels, was just one of many nostalgic moments on my journey through Kalos. In fact, Pokémon X and Y feel like both the next step in the evolution of the franchise and an ode to its roots. Being able to pick a Kanto starter already tingles my childhood memories, but when I notice that Santalune Forest has the exact same layout as Viridian Forest (and the exact low appearance rate of Pikachu), I have to look in the mirror to make sure I have a bearded face which is not covered in chocolate. Now, when I first saw my Bulbasaur in 3D…words can’t describe my feelings.

A myriad reviews on the Internet have pointed out the flaws and strong sides of the game, but I am here to remind you of how Game Freak has succeeded in bringing everything you love about Pokémon to the third dimension. Sure, the story sucks, the characters are cut-outs and you technically play the same game you played ten years ago, but who cares? It’s Pokémon, a formula that has worked since you were beaten up in elementary school for your foil Charizard trading card!

I might have moved out and left my mom behind, but Pokémon X and Y reminded me that I’ll take some parts of my childhood with me wherever I go.

Go catch ’em all,

Chin

P.S.: Yeah, this is the last post about Pokémon. For now.

 

Pokémon X and Y: first impressions

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When I received the text message from my LGS that a copy of Pokémon Y was waiting for me, finishing my work got really hard. Knowing that I was just two-and-a-half hours separated from my future career as Pokémon Master didn’t make waiting any easier, so when the clock struck five, I jumped on my bike, peddled like a madman and picked up my copy. About an hour later, I was knee-deep in the Kalos Region, kicking all kinds of asses with my Froakie and other living weapons known as Pokémon.

So, what’s my opinion so far? Visually, I’m still stunned by how great the game looks. Walking through caves with the camera over the shoulder of your character makes the experience more intense, and racing through the streets of Lumiose City looks far more impressive know that the beautiful buildings really tower over you. Also, seeing your Pokémon as actual three-dimensional entities in battle, with facial expressions and what have you, is a real treat. The moment I had to fight my first Pidgey, I pointed at the screen and shouted: “It looks just like the one in the anime, including that arrogant face!” My inner kid was satisfied, especially once that cocky pidgeon was in my Pokéball.

The gameplay is what you expect from a Pokémon game, but with a few major and minor additions. The big new features include Super Training, allowing you to train your Pokémon’s EV’s through mini-games. Next to that, you can cuddle with your critters in Pokémon-Amie, hand out O-Powers to people all over the world or dress up your character in new clothes. These big new features are all nice, but to me, the small adjustments really make the difference.

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Two of those little tweaks are the changes to the Exp. Share item and earning Exp. when capturing a Pokémon. In the past, your Pokémon would not get experience from a battle in which you caught the opposing Pokémon. Now, your Pokémon still get experience, even when you put that cute little thing into a tiny, confined space. Also, Exp. Share is now an item that can simply be turned on. When activated, all Pokémon who did not participate in battle get half of the experience the fighting Pokémon received. It’s a small change, but it eliminates some of the grind from previous games, making the training of your fire-breathing, bubble-blowing minions easier.

So far, I think Pokémon X and Y take the familiar formula of the previous generations and put them into a revolutionary visual presentation. The new features and changes to old ones improve the game, making it more accessible and fun. At least, that’s what I can say being six hours into the game, on my way to earn my second badge (what, I’m a Slowpoke, okay). Seeing how I like to spit my opinion at random people from the Internet, you’ll hear from me again once I’ve seen more of Kalos.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a Gym leader who needs a whoopin’.

Final Fantasy XIV – a meal I regret

Copyright by VG CATS

I’m a really easy eater. Due to my parent’s way of introducing my siblings and me to new foods and a natural curiosity for the culinary, I eat practically everything. Furthermore, I think this open-minded approach towards food is the source of my general tolerant stance towards new things. It has inspired me to try things before judging them, especially when it comes to video games.

The past few weeks, my digital diet had grown somewhat boring. I was mostly living off of multiple servings of Guild Wars 2 a day, while consuming some snacks of FTL and Trine 2 in between. I was lacking some vitamine N for “new” in my daily life, and thus I felt like last Sunday was a good day to add some flavor. A nice plate of Final Fantasy XIV would treat my stomach to something nice. Or so I thought.

Long story short: I forgot about my allergy to bad game design and had to throw up…metaphorically speaking.

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