Four things in ‘Destiny’ that need to be changed ASAP

Destiny

Destiny servers have been up for over a week now and there are issues that need to be addressed as soon as possible. Below are some glaring issues. Please note this is drawn from my experience on the Xbox One version of the game, but it should universally resonate with all players.

Skippable cutscenes

Not being able to skip cutscenes is a huge problem for players who are creating new characters or for impatient people like me. Personally, I don’t care much for story and cutscenes in videogames – I find watching videogame cutscenes comparable to watching cartoons/animated movies and, after I hit a certain age, I just can’t get into them anymore. But for those who have seen the cutscenes for certain missions before and can’t skip them under any circumstance is definitely feeling my pain. Being able to customize my character while the scene plays in the background is a plus, but please Bungie, just let me skip it and don’t let it be such a buzzkill.

Dismantling items is too easy

Items can be broken down for parts/glimmer and there should be a prompt before dismantling certain items. I get the fact that players may want a quick process to continue doing whatever it is that they’re doing, but there should at least be an ‘Are you sure?’ prompt when you’re breaking down items that are categorized as Rare and up. I haven’t had the luxury to dismantle any Legendary or Exotic items yet, but I’ve already heard horror stories from friends essentially “deleting” some great equipment by mistake. So until this is patched up, be careful when you press X/Square.

Multiplayer balancing

The Fusion Rifles, Shotguns and certain Super Charge moves need to get nerfed or at least have other guns/moves beefed up. Fusion Rifles and Shotguns are the weapon of choice for most matches and their effectiveness is too good to pass up. I run around with a Fusion Rifle and feel a bit guilty for the amount of mowing down I’m able to do. There should be a better balance for the different weapons and that should come sooner than later while the game is still hot. And if you’ve played multiplayer, you know for sure the Bladedancer super move for Hunters is ridiculous.

Multiplayer rewards

Crucible matches award every participant with random weapons and rewards. This is nice for everybody, but it leaves no big incentive for winning. Sure there’s Bounties that can be completed for doing well in games, but there have been times where my winning team effectively received nothing for a game and the other team was granted rewards. It demotivates and feels like I’m wasting time when Strike missions promise a reward after completion. Bungie needs to motivate players who do well and at least promise something for 1st place or highest scoring players.

Those are some of my major gripes and I’m sure there are some you have, too. Share if you have any or if you agree with any I’ve listed above. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some light armor to find.

Forza Horizon 2 and Forza 5 DLC announced

Forza 5, a game that launched alongside the Xbox One this past November, is getting DLC and it’s free and available today. The world famous Nürburgring of Nürburg, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany is now available for download.

Along with that, Forza Horizon 2 has also been announced for September 30th release and it will run at 1080p and 30fps. The game will take place in Southern Europe and will arrive for Xbox 360 and Xbox One. Playground Games will be working on the Xbox One version while Sumo Digital takes charge of the Xbox 360 version.

Video Game Gifts for Dad 2013

Now that you’ve finished picking up the typical clothes and power tools to gift that dad in your life, it’s time to give him a little pleasure through gaming this holiday season. Here are our picks.

Saints Row IV (PS3, Xbox 360)

What dad wouldn’t want to hear San Bush’s “The Touch” from Transformers: The Movie, while getting his game on? Saints Row IV was one of the surprise hits of the summer. This sandbox game mashed up Prototype, The Matrix and GTA into one ferocious, off-the-wall game. Realism in gaming may be cool, but playing as a superhero president who can bash an alien’s brains in is what makes playing video games great. Even if you don’t consider yourself a completionist, you may find yourself playing just about every mission so you can enjoy all the wacky M-rated humor and action.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360)

Each new Assassin’s Creed release adds just a little more nuance to make it worthwhile game. While the land action and platforming will be familiar to most, life at sea in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is a new-found joy. Play this game on one of the next gen consoles and you’re in for a visual treat. Lush environments feel alive and may just have you planning your next Caribbean getaway.

Tomb Raider (Xbox 360, PS3)

Everyone’s favorite treasure seeker, Lara Croft, went through a major reboot this year. We were introduced to a younger Lara, who had to do a lot of growing up in order to survive. Tomb Raider was one of the more mature adventures of the year and also gave us one of the best stories of 2013. The action and combat are always engaging and the character of Lara has never been brought to life in a more realistic way.

Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)

Any dad who remembers The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past on SNES will want to pick up Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds on 3DS. The game utilizes a similar visual style to the classic SNES game with a few added twists. Similar to the SNES game, this game features a parallel world to Hyrule. However, travel back-and-forth between the two worlds is done through a new mechanic that also deepens the intrigue of dungeon exploration. Link is now able to flatten himself out on a wall, like a painting, and work his way around the side of a cliff or the exterior of a castle. For lifelong Zelda fans, this game is reason enough to pick up a 3DS if you don’t have one yet.

NBA 2K14 (PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360)

NBA 2K13 was damn near perfect. With annual sports franchise games, you’re always left wondering – is it worth it to upgrade to the latest release merely to get a roster update? NBA 2K14 adds just enough polish to the defensive game and ball handling to make this title a worthy holiday pickup – especially at its current, marked-down price. And while the LeBron James Path to Greatness mode doesn’t offer more than a tacked on career mode, NBA 2K14 is just a down-right excellent basketball sim that any sports gamer should own.

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (PS3)

Studio Ghibli made an RPG? Hell yeah, it did! Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch is one of the best RPGs of 2013 and that’s even before you add in all the exquisite animation and compelling storytelling from Studio Ghibli. This is one of those truly memorable RPG experiences that will stick in your mind for years to come. The vast array of oddball characters, freaky monsters and unique locations warrants a franchise.

The Last of Us (PS3)

When people say that the line between movies and video games is getting blurred, they should reference The Last of Us in that conversation. The first ten minutes of the game, thrust you into the mind of one of the most compelling, and tragic heroes, of 2013 – video game or otherwise. The Last of Us gave us characters who you wanted to get to know on a personal level. While there were several AI issues, this game didn’t lack in personality and gamer engagement. I dare you to know five games that came out this year with a more intriguing – and conflicted – leading character.

FIFA Soccer 2014 (Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS4, PS3)

With the 2014 World Cup just over the horizon, adding a Fifa game to the collection is a necessity. Unlike EA Sports’ Madden franchise, the Fifa development team actually improves this game every year. While the tweaks may seem small to some, better ball control and shot handling makes this release the definitive Fifa game.

Bioshock Infinite (Xbox 360, PS3)

Bioshock Infinite was one of the edgier games of 2013. For many, it touched racial and religious nerves. However, this impactful story showed us how deep a video game story could get. The developers at Irrational Games reminded us that a great, nuanced story is essential in game development. Plus, the gameplay was just damn-good fun. Nuff said.

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Blacklist (Xbox 360, PS3)

Splinter Cell Blacklist didn’t receive nearly as much attention as it deserved. Not only was the game a joy to play, but the multiplayer component gave many shooter fans just about as much fun as a Halo or Call of Duty game. The stealth mechanics and AI were some of the best of 2013. Plus, this is a shooter that was worth replaying the single player campaign just for the challenge. How often can you say that about a shooter these days?

Batman: Arkham Origins (PS3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii U)

Okay, so Batman Arkham Origins was just a buggy carbon copy of Batman Arkham City. I get it. But wasn’t it great to be Batman and fight Deathstroke? If a game is just fun to play, then I’ll play it. If you’ve got a Batman fan in the family – they’ll love to play it as well.

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (Wii U, 3DS)

While many will say that Super Mario 3D Land is the reason to own a Wii U, I’ll say that Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate was a great reason to pickup a Wii U or 3DS. This is one of the best multiplayer games around on either Nintendo system. If you’ve ever played Monster Hunter or just dig JRPGs, then this is a game that will give you countless hours of fun through 2014.

Grand Theft Auto V (Xbox 360, PS3)

If that dad in your life hasn’t had a chance to play this GTA game yet, then now is the time. While the story is short, there’s so much to do and see in this live-out-your-wildest-thrill-fantasy game.

Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS)

I’ve met many DS and 3DS gamers who have been longing for the next Advance Wars game. Well, Fire Emblem: Awakening is the next best thing – if not an even better thing. This rich, turn-based strategy game sets a new benchmark of perfection on the 3DS. You don’t need to be a fan of the Fire Emblem franchise to get into this game. But if you are, you’ll delight in the depth of content. While some gamers may not consider Fire Emblem a staple Nintendo franchise – up there with Mario, Zelda, Kirby, Donkey Kong or Metroid – this game will have those naysayers singing a different tune.

Injustice: Gods Among Us Ultimate (PS3, Xbox 360, PS4, Xbox One)

With the Man of Steel sequel in the works and Arrow rocking the CW, picking up Injustice: Gods Among Us Ultimate should be a no brainer. Even if you’re not a fighting-game genre lover, you’ll dig the story, characters and special moves in Injustice. The game utilizes all the great mechanics of the revamped Mortal Kombat series to give fans one excellent fighting game.

DmC: Devil May Cry (Xbox 360, PS3)

Thanks to Capcom, the Devil May Cry franchise was relaunched and made ripe for next-gen. In DmC, Capcom relaunched a younger Dante. This new origin story may have changed up a few traits with regard to our hero, but DmC‘s nonstop action and wit got 2013 off on the right foot. This game is a great way to jump on the Dante bandwagon because you know that Capcom will be planning something big with this franchise for the PS4 and Xbox One.

In addition to retail games, there are also several digital games that you can gift that dad in your life through XBLA or PSN gift cards. These make for great Stocking Stuffers. Here are a few titles worth gifting:
Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014(PSN, XBLA)
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Darkstalkers Resurrection
The Wolf Among Us: Episode 1 – Faith
Skulls of the Shogun

Family Games to Take Home for the Holiday

The holiday rush is here. It’s a time for family, friends and great deals on video games. For parents, the key to a happy holiday is in finding great games that kids can play together or games that you can play with your kids. Here are our picks to bridge the gap between “gaming time” and family-together time.

Skylanders Swap Force (Wii U, 3DS, Xbox 360, PS3, Xbox One, PS4)

swap force

Skylanders has easily become the no-brainer gift for kids during the holiday season. Plus, I can’t tell you how many dads are thrilled to play games with their kids guilt free thanks to this game franchise.

If you don’t know what Skyladers are yet, your kids probably do. Skylanders is part game and part collectable toy franchise. By placing the toys on the magical portal, the toys pop right up on your children’s TV screen. This game continues to expand each year, with new toys to use in the game. Plus, you can always use older toys on new Skylanders game releases. This year’s Swap Force release adds in a new twist to the franchise. The new toys split into two-halves, which can be swapped with other Swap Force toys to create new in-game characters.

Just Dance 2014 (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U, Xbox One, PS4)

Just Dance is another one of those staple family games. The dance franchise has supplanted instrument games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero for group gaming and laughs. Just Dance 2014‘s new “On Stage Mode” will allow families to rotate out their band leaders. So if you just want to dance back-up, while your kids take the stage, you can. While I’m sure many parents get enough of a workout playing the regular dance mode with their kids, fit parents setup a custom “sweat” playlist for workouts when the kids are at school.

NBA 2K14 (PS3, Xbox 360, PS4, Xbox One)

2K Sports delivered another solid basketball game this year with NBA 2K14. This game brings home some intense family sporting competition without any violence – just solid ball control and in-your-face dunks. LeBron James fans can also play through LeBron’s career through 2020 as he tries to beat Michael Jordan’s championship career. The fantasy mode allows you to play through LeBron’s career if he stays on Miami or if he is traded between teams – including the New York Knicks.

Rayman Legends (Wii U, PS3, Xbox 360, PS3)

Can you say 5-player Rayman? You can, if you’ve got the WiiPad. But don’t fret, you can still play 4-player co-op on the Xbox 360 and PS3. This is one of the most beautiful and engaging platformers of 2014. Regardless of your level of gaming experience, this game is an utter joy to play in a group. This is a great game to get casual gamers involved in a game that is not just fun, but also filled with intelligent challenges. So hop off of iOS for the holiday and have a Rayman party. You won’t be disappointed.

LEGO Marvel Super Heroes (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U, 3DS, PS4, Xbox One)

With Marvel superhero fever rampaging through the cinema, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes makes for an ideal game to live out your comic book, adventure fantasies. Over 100 characters means no arguing between siblings for who gets to play what hero. Let me correct that, there may still be arguing, but hey instead of who gets to play Spider-Man they can debate over who gets to play Spider-Man, Captain America, Iron Man, Wolverine and any number of other heroes. You know what that means? They’ll learn to compromise. I get Spidey, you get Wolvie, but next time I get to smash everyone as the Hulk. Now that’s a holiday debate worth having.

Grid 2 (Xbox 360, PS3)

Do you remember Grid? Well, it came back in 2013 with one of the best racing games of the year, thanks to those racing lovers over at Codemasters. This game offers a unique mix of arcade racing and simulation, which is ideal for gamers of all ages. You won’t have to worry about overly complex customization and controls, like in Grand Turismo, and hop right in a race and go. However, there is still a lot of technical realism in this game. The variety of tracks, cars, weather and audio mix just makes this one racing game you’ll get hours of holiday gaming out of.

MLB 13: The Show (PS3)

Sony owns baseball with its MLB 13: The Show franchise just as much as EA Sports owns football with Madden. The 2013 baseball season may be over, but that just means you can pick up this superb baseball sim for dirt cheap. The game is even better if you’ve got the Playstation Move. This is one of those select titles, like Tiger Woods Golf, which actually benefits from movement controls. Your family will have a blast taking turns and swinging for the bleachers with the Move in your hands.

FIFA 14 (PS3, Xbox 360)

FIFA reminds us that competition in sports game development is a good thing. With Konami’s PES Soccer still a rival for EA Sports’ FIFA franchise, the developers at EA Sports have continued to make strides improving this title ever year – unlike Madden, which has seen starkly less improvement over the past decade. FIFA 14 improves on ball and shot control, allowing gamers to score in new and more fluid ways. With the World Cup just around the corner, FIFA 14 is a great way to get the family excited for world competition. Which country will you choose?

Game Releases to Check out Week of October 1

We may be moving closer to the launch of the Sony PS4 and Microsoft Xbox One, but thankfully new game releases are still trickling out for the Xbox 360 and PS3.

This week, we’ve got four titles on our radar.

NBA 2K14
First up, we’ve got NBA 2K14 from 2K Sports. Last year’s release wowed us with lots of updates to the core gaming mechanics and improved shot control. This year, bball fans can expect more of the same. Like all franchise sports games, big updates typically only come every other year-or-so. In between, you have roster updates and a revamped career mode. This year focuses on LeBron James. You can follow his fantastical career through the year 2020 as he jumps around the league on a mission to beat Michael Jordan’s championship record. This career mode has two versions, one of which is more streamlined with his current career on the Miami Heat. New players will be introduced and New York fans will even get to see LeBron play on the Knicks.

Rain
While retail releases are great, the past few years have brought us a slew of innovative and creative IPs through digital releases on PSN and XBLA. This week, we’ve got Rain for PS3 from Director Yuuki Ikeda. The story follows a young boy who tries to save a young girl, with an invisible silhouette, that is being changes by supernatural creatures.

Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millenium Girl
If you’ve got a 3DS, you’re going to want to get a hold of Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millenium Girl. This is the first game in the Etrian Odyssey franchise, featuring an expanded story and revamped battle system. Madhouse animation created vibrant opening animations and cut scenes that really bring Yuji Hinata’s artwork to life.

Rune Factory 4
The 3DS is making a strong showing this week for RPG gamers. Harvest Moon players will want to check out Rune Factory 4. This is the first time that the franchise will allow players to select a male or female hero. You can also pursue romances of either gender at your leisure and even go on to marry and have kids. This game is part farming, part dungeon adventure. So expect several hours of RPG fun.

Sadly, there’s nothing new for the Wii U this week, but such is life.

‘Rayman Legends’ Review – Brilliant execution of 2D gameplay (Wii U)

The brilliant precedent set by Rayman Origins in 2011 has been surpassed by the latest entry in the limbless hero’s 18 year legacy. Ladies and gentlemen, Rayman Legends has arrived and it reminds us all why we adore 2D platformers. Clever gameplay, speed, challenge and demand for swift reaction are everything you look for in a platformer and it’s woven into every crevice of Legends. Ubisoft Montpellier makes it blatantly evident that much time and care was put into every level of Rayman Legends; throughout the entire 8-10 hour venture, there was never a dull moment.

As if a platformer ever needs one nor do you even care, Rayman Legends does have a story and it joins Rayman and his gang after a 1,000 year slumber. They soon find out that the 10 princesses of the land and the teensies have been captured and it’s up to you to save them. Simple story material here and it is told through charming cutscenes. Once you decide to watch or skip these cutscenes, you arrive at the meat and potatoes of the game.

Other platformers with multiple worlds and stages seem like a blur after playing through them, but that’s not the issue with Legends; no two stages are alike. This is especially telling when you can go back to the front of previously played areas and can reference at least one moment that stands out as being exceptionally fun. One stage will have you frantically scaling collapsing platforms and next would be a 2D airplane shooter-style board. The variety seems endless and the game is constantly introducing fresh ideas.

Boss battles are also a blast to play as they require the old-school sense of recognizing patterns. Whether it’s learning how a giant dragon is going to breathe down fiery death next or where the next punch of a giant luchador is going to go, you sort of don’t want the epic battles to end just because they’re so darn cool. The boss battles here are truly the perfect complement to the rest of the game.

Running, jumping, wall-jumping, attacking and sliding all return and are vastly similar to Rayman Origins. The only major gameplay inclusion in Legends comes in the form of the touch-screen and tilt required stages where you guide another player or an AI controlled character if you’re playing alone. Cutting ropes, clearing paths or blocking the flow of lava are just some of the assistance you will give via the Wii U gamepad touchscreen. 

Roughly a third of the game’s main stages are touch required and it is much better played with a friend. In fact, playing the touch stages with the AI as a partner is the game’s biggest downfall. The computer isn’t intelligent enough to know that the path is unsafe no matter how small the danger may be; you can clear a path, leave only a tiny piece of a sharp object protruding and the game is unaware it should make a very capable jump. Add the fact that the computer moves at a snail’s pace and what you have here are slow and frustrating levels you want to get over with to get back to running and jumping. As long as you play with another human player, touch and tilt works very well and adds a layer or depth and strategy that wasn’t met in the game’s predecessor.

Legends can be tough, especially when you’re going after all the collectibles and challenge levels, however, it is quite forgiving as well. Every stage checkpoints often and there is no such thing as an allotted amount of lives, so losing a life goes practically unpunished. There were a few areas where dying set me back further than I would have liked, but this certainly pales in comparison to other games that may actually have you replay entire levels or two for visiting the game over screen.

Co-op is an enjoyable experience to be had with friends, but it does get a bit hectic with three or four players. Adding a fifth player is also possible and that person can be part of the team as the touchscreen only player. When there’s 5 people playing at once, it’s easy to lose track of your player when so much is happening on one screen. I don’t think there’s any way around this, but at least characters look different enough which makes pinpointing your character a bit easier. Unfortunately, there’s no online capability and that’s a shame when Legends is at its best when played with other people.

Replayability is here with full-force as each level has multiple hidden passages and challenges and you can unlock levels from Rayman Origins as well; it’s as if this were two games rolled into one. Even after the credits roll, there is still so much content to explore and you definitely feel as if you got your money’s worth. Folks with the obsession to collect every little thing in a game will find themselves invested into Legends for well over 30 hours.

Beginner or seasoned veteran, little kid or grown adult, Rayman Legends is one of those games that anyone can pick up and play. Much like that first time you saw Super Mario Bros. or even the original Rayman in 1995, you can understand the game quickly and have a good time. Legends doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does take everything we love about 2D platformers and pulls them off with near perfection. Aside from some frustration when playing with the AI and the lack of online play, this is the best Rayman has ever looked and arguably for all 2D platformers.

Rayman Legends
Genre: Platforming
Platform: Reviewed on Wii U (also available on Xbox 306, PS3, PS Vita, PC)
Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: September 3, 2013

Rating:

9.0 / 10

Doctor Doom’s Triple Threat in LEGO Marvel Super Heroes (Video)

Let the self-referential humor begin. If you’re a fan of the Lego franchise, and especially Lego Batman 2: DC Superheroes, then you know how fun TT Games’ Lego humor can be when mocking your favorite super heroes and villains.

The latest trailer for Lego Marvel Super Heroes has a lot of that Big Bang Theory and Community style comedy in it. Doctor Doom has assembled a league of devilishly bad, bad guys so that he can collect cosmic bricks… Yeah, it’s the Lego version of the cosmic cube from the Captain America and Avengers movies. Doctor Doom is also creating – get this – Doctor Doom’s Doomray of Doom. How’s that for redundancy and alliteration. Who said super villains don’t like to read? There are also jokes about Wolverine’s hygiene. Ouch.

Check out the trailer above. LEGO Marvel Super Heroes hits all consoles this Fall.

Payday 2 Review: Become a Better Team Player through Sociopathic Heists

Payday: The Heist was a solid co-op game that felt raw and a bit unpolished. It was still fun, but felt a bit like a confused mess at times. Payday 2 is the new and even more ambitious sequel. Overkill and Starbreeze have done an excellent job in refining the formula to make for one of the most fun, challenging co-op experiences in years – provided your team is patient, quick and smart.

In Payday 2, you are not the good guy. You are a bank-robbing sociopath with a penchant for heavy weaponry, clown masks and gadgets. As such, it is your job to go into some very incredible situations, and then get out of them. Payday 2 does an admirable job right off the bat of making each game interesting. Whereas the first game had missions that could take 20 minutes at a minimum, Payday 2 has crafted scenarios that can last from 30 seconds to far longer, multi-tiered, multi-day missions. In each of these scenarios, there is a significant level of tension, whether you’re hiding on a Museum’s roof waiting for a guard to pass or trying to revive a teammate who has been shot while under fire in the middle of a warehouse shootout.

Payday 2’s heists have a great range. The simpler of the heists include a robbing a bank, jewelry store or a nightclub. The more advanced scenarios come soon and involve cooking meth in order to sell it in exchange for information and cash or stealing art in order to sell to, and later frame a Senator. The great thing is, even after you’ve completed the more advanced heists, the lower tier ones are still an absolute blast to play through.

Part of the reason is that the game borrows a lot from Valve’s Left 4 Dead series. The interface is similar, as is some of the interactivity. But the best thing is the “AI Director” that Left 4 Dead had. This is where each mission would be slightly different. So if you decide to rob the bank twice in a row, not only could the security cameras be in a different place, but the vault itself could be moved. It goes beyond that too.

Sometimes, you and your teammates will be in the middle of a perfect stealth run. But the game could spawn a civilian walking the streets who has a cell phone and sees you with your mask on and gun out. They will call the cops, and make your day a lot harder. Part of what makes the game so much more interesting than a lot of other games is that the game seems to adapt to the players, as much as the players are forced to adapt to the game.

The best part of Payday 2 is that the game is far more involved and far more tactical than a lot of other co-op games. More so than Mass Effect 3 or Gears of War’s horde modes, more so than games like Army of Two or even Left 4 Dead, communication and tactical thinking are the key not only to a successful playthrough, but also critical to maximizing the fun of the game. Payday 2 forces you to rapidly adjust plans between 4 people as you see how levels are laid out, how your position is being assaulted and who has what skills to best complete objectives. The other games are all fun, and still require a modicum of communication, but not even Payday: The Heist was quite so demanding.

And to be honest, that is both good and bad. When you have a group of 4 people who all have microphones and patience, the game was among the best experiences I have had this year. Payday 2 is not quite as cinematic as say, Bioshock Infinite or The Last of Us, but when you have 4 people trying to coordinate different skill sets while trying to sneak into the FBI headquarters to steal a server, the experience is easily on par with those games, just its own quirky way. However, get a squad where even one person lacks a microphone, and the experience can dissolve quickly.

An anecdote: the mission Rats requires players to cook crystal meth. Meth is highly explosive if made wrong. The game has you gather the necessary chemicals, and one person follows a set of dictated online directions and adds ingredients while the others fight off waves of cops. If you place the chemicals in the wrong way, the top floor of the meth house explodes, and the remainder of the mission becomes exceptionally challenging. Well, tonight, three of us had mics, and the one guy who didn’t either couldn’t hear us, or didn’t listen and proceeded to put the ingredients in how he thought they should go. Needless to say, things did not go so well, and rather than the $150,000 or so we could have taken, we got maybe $10,000.

We still had fun, and ended up in some wild shootouts, but it does significantly detract from the game, when earlier, with 4 Microphones, our team was like a well-oiled machine that stormed jewelry stores and sneakily raided museums. Further, I have had games where no one else had a microphone, and we were able to complete low level missions with relative ease. Things really do start to get iffy when the game reaches higher difficulty sessions or longer missions and you can’t rapidly communicate with everyone to make sure people are on the same page.

The game even with one AI bot is similarly not nearly as fun as it is when you have a full team. The friendly AI isn’t the worst I’ve encountered, but it is a far, far cry from a competent team. While I have had the AI go out of its way to get me up or helpfully shoot some enemies off my back, it was not all good. In one instance, we had a person drop from our game, and though we were quietly stealing from a safe in the back room of a jewelry shop, the AI who took over thought it would be a good idea to walk around to the front of the store with his mask on. Even had this not alerted everyone, before people even reacted, we watched helplessly as the bot proceeded to shoot a security guard through the front window. We still got the jewels and our cash, but it wasn’t fun having our stealthy mission progress destroyed by a particularly disgruntled bot.

Playing the game Solo is not a generally good idea, as stupidity aside, the AI cannot interacting with objects or even carrying bags of cash. This means that you have to do all the heavy lifting alone, and there is a lot of heavy lifting in a game that involves thefts of cash, gold and other loot. Avoid playing solo if possible, and stick to games with friends, as the friendly AI is really only good for shielding you and for screwing up your attempts at stealth. On the bright side, the enemy AI isn’t perfect, and even on high difficulties, I’ve had enemies watch as crossed their sight lines, though this was uncommon.

Still, in spite of these issues, if you can find a solid game then you will be rewarded with some very challenging, tactical and interesting gameplay. Payday 2’s stealth system, while not perfect, is still plenty of fun, and very rewarding. You don’t get an actual bonus for doing things quietly, but there is a real sense of accomplishment when your team does complete a mission without alerting the police. Add that to the three tiered, RPG style reward system and the formula is made better. The unlock system of Payday: The Heist was kind of a mess. Payday 2 gets it right with a clearer level system that results in skill points to unlock various helpful traits, such as the ability to make police officers surrender or extra ammo bags. Additionally, you take a portion of any job you complete, and these are used to purchase weapons, weapon modifications, new masks, skill traits or even temporary assets to assist you in your heists.

The third tier is that masks, weapon modifications and mask modifications are all on a random card system. After a successful payday, you choose from one of three “payday cards” and a magic random number generator decides what you get. It can be a dash of extra spending cash, a new mask or a general or specific weapon mod. This system is in and of itself a bit off, as at one point four in five missions netted me a $3,000 cash bonus, while my teammates got new masks, rifle sights or other useful weapon mods. It’s not a perfect system, but that little bit of chance does admittedly add a bit of simple excitement to even a normally mundane unlock system.

All of this is helped along by an excellent soundtrack that is not only driving, but contextual. The musical cues are reminiscent of classic movies, highlighting upcoming assault waves of police officers or warning you when stealth is out the door and it’s time to prepare for your heist to get a lot more challenging. The core interface of the game is also excellent, and much improved from the last game. Crime.net, the hub where you choose your next mission, is crowded, but still pretty clear what games are which heist and how difficult the individual game has.

Overall, Payday 2’s experience varies from play to play. I’m not referring to the excellent implementation of the AI Director, though that could fit. Ultimately, Payday 2 is what you and a good team make it. While the game can be fun even without a great team, it rapidly transforms into one of the most enjoyable games of the year if you have teammates who have the patience to treat the early parts of each scenario like the puzzle they are and who have the willingness to listen and help when something breaks and the cops come cracking down. The violence in the game reaches levels that are almost uncomfortable, as you are the bad guy. But that content discussion is for another time. As it stands, the puzzle like mechanics and exciting shootouts make for an excellent co-op gameplay experience. It’s a bit ironic though that the game with the most sociopathic characters – so far this year – also teaches you how to play best with others.

Payday 2
Payday 2
Genre: Action/Adventure, Shooter
Platform: Reviewed on PC (also available on PS3, Xbox 360)
Developer: Overkill Software
Publisher: 505 Games
Release Date: August 13, 2013

Rating:

8.0 / 10

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified – Jumping the Tactical Shark Never Felt so Good

This summer, XCOM makes the jump from tactical role-playing game to third-person shooter, in The Bureau: XCOM Declassified.

When 2K Games initially made the announcement that XCOM was turning into a shooter, purists screamed balderdash (and probably a few colorful four letter words – I know I did). There are some things you just don’t do. You don’t cross the streams in Ghostbusters, unless you’re taking down Gozer of course, and you don’t screw with XCOM.

Here’s the thing. When a developer rips the characters out of a shooter or RPG franchise and thrusts them into a tactical game, I’m usually all on board. Give me Final Fantasy Tactics any day of the week, and I’ll have a Kool-Aid smile from ear-to-ear. Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars was one of my favorite 3DS launch titles (yeah, I said it). And, don’t get me going about how awesome Project X Zone is – a game that threw together a myriad of vintage characters (over 200 – it’s a freakish abundance I know) from Namco Bandai, Sega and Capcom to create one wholly, rad game.

But, to go the other way just sounds like bad vibes. How do you warp a tactical game into a shooter?

Do you turn it into Call of Duty: XCOM or Halo 6: Return of the Unknown Enemy? It sounds like a backwards concept orchestrated by Superman’s wacked-out nemesis, Bizarro.

Perhaps, you just leave it as XCOM. Take all the great strategic elements found in XCOM’s turn-based combat and turn it into a real-time shooter. And, that’s exactly what the developers at 2K Marin did.

Playing through the first four hours of XCOM was nothing short of cathartic. The developers managed to create the same intensity of XCOM, wrapped around the singular story of special agent William Carter. The story takes place during the 1962 Cold War panic, but instead of Russians, you’re fighting Sectoids and all those other aliens you’ve come love-hate in XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

Carter may not die during the course of the narrative, but everyone else on your squad is expendable. Unfortunately, they’re not really expendable since you’ll still spend time leveling them up – only to see them die if you don’t manage your team correctly. Then, it’s back to the drawing board – new troops to train, when the luxury of actual training time doesn’t exist. So, yes, XCOM still hates you – . And, that’s why we love it. Much like Dark Souls, it’s sadistic pleasure.

The real-time action in The Bureau is more frenetic than you’d expect. Making the mental jump from turn-based action to real time commands takes a lot of juggling. Players will have to train their brains to think faster than an ordinary shooter game. The Bureau doesn’t employ the shallow team-based commands you’d find in your standard squad shooter. Players don’t simply tell their team to rush in or stand their ground. Instead, you command your squad’s every action – directing their movements, picking their targets and deciding how best each character will support the team.

Using the weapons and ability wheel, you can quickly issue precision commands. Just remember, the combat doesn’t stop. In the first few hours, one of the characters that I built up and had come to rely on bit the big one. Yes, it was my fault. I blame myself. But those darned aliens had me surrounded with attackers swarming in on land and air.

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified gives us one thing that Enemy Unknown was short on… a wealth of truly great, memorable environments. Top-down environments are rarely as satisfying as an environment you can walk through in third or first person. The 1962 exteriors are alive, the tension is high and the combat is intense. There’s nothing like a period game that really takes you back in time with smart set pieces, before throwing everything on its back with aliens. You get a full sense of the cover system, as objects are blown away and the alien invaders close in.

While the combat and tactics exceed expectations, development inside felt shallower than that of XCOM: Enemy Unknown. I still had the ability to make weapons modifications and manage soldier specializations, but the strategic “game within a game” aspect of the base was lost in this third-person world.

Fans of XCOM or just shooter fans in general should definitely take a look at The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. This game is going to force other team-based shooters and established franchises to step their “game” up and stop with the “weak-sauce-edness” … I’m especially looking at you SOCOM (that’s if you ever decide to get your act together and get back to SOCOM 2).

BuzzFocus: Best of Video Games 2012 Nominations

Best Action/Adventure

Darksiders II (Vigil Games, THQ)
Dishonored (Arkane Studios, Bethesda Softworks)
Mass Effect 3 (Bioware, EA)
Max Payne 3 (Rockstar Games)
Sleeping Dogs (United Front Games, Square Enix)
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron (High Moon Studios, Activision)
[poll=246]

Best Story

The Last Story (Mistwalker, XSeed Games)
Mass Effect 3 (Bioware, EA)
Spec Ops: The Line (Yager, 2K Games)
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron (High Moon Studios, Activision)
The Walking Dead (Telltale Games)
Xenoblade Chronicles (Monolith Soft, Nintendo)
[poll=257]

Best Fighting Game

Dead or Alive 5 (Team Ninja, Tecmo Koei)
Street Fighter X Tekken (Capcom)
Tekken Tag Tournament 2 (Bandai Namco)
[poll=247]

Best Console Download Game (XBLA/PSN)

Fez (Polytron Corp.)
Journey (ThatGameCompany, SCEA)
Mark of the Ninja (Klei Entertainment, Microsoft Game Studios)
Trials Evolution (RedLynx, Microsoft Game Studios)
The Walking Dead (Telltale Games)
[poll=248]

Best Mind Bending, Puzzle or Strategy Game

Fez (Polytron Corp.)
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask (Level 5, Nintendo)
XCOM: Enemy Unknown (Fraxis Games, 2K Games)
[poll=249]

Best Sequel

Borderlands 2 (Gearbox, 2K Games)
Halo 4 (343 Industries, Microsoft Game Studios)
Mass Effect 3 (Bioware, EA)
Max Payne 3 (Rockstar Games)
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron (High Moon Studios, Activision)
[poll=250]

Best Shooter

Borderlands 2 (Gearbox, 2K Games)
Far Cry 3 (Ubisoft)
Halo 4 (343 Industries, Microsoft Game Studios)
Spec Ops: The Line (Yager, 2K Games)
[poll=251]

Best Game for Children

LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes (TT Games, Warner Bros Interactive)
Need for Speed Most Wanted A Criterion Game (Criterion Games, EA)
New Super Mario Bros U (Nintendo)
Skylanders Giants (Toys for Bob, Activision)
[poll=252]

Best Sports

FIFA Soccer 13 (EA Sports)
MLB 12 The Show (SCEA)
NBA 2K13 (Visual Concepts, 2K Sport)
WWE 13 (THQ)
[poll=253]

Best Racer

DiRT Showdown (Codemasters)
Forza Horizon (Turn 10, Microsoft Studios)
Need for Speed Most Wanted A Criterion Game (Criterion Games, EA)
Sonic & All-Star Racing Transformed (Sumo Digital, SEGA)
Trials Evolution (RedLynx, Microsoft Game Studios)
[poll=254]

Best RPG

Dragon’s Dogma (Capcom)
Final Fantasy XIII-2 (Square Enix)
The Last Story (Mistwalker, XSeed Games)
Mass Effect 3 (Bioware, EA)
Xenoblade Chronicles (Monolith Soft, Nintendo)
[poll=255]

Best Handheld (DS/PS Vita/3DS)

LittleBigPlanet PS Vita (Tarsier Studios, SCEA)
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask (Level 5, Nintendo)
Resident Evil: Revelations (Capcom)
Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward (ChunSoft, Aksys Games)
[poll=256]

Best Wii/Wii U

The Last Story (Mistwalker, XSeed Games)
Mass Effect 3: Special Edition (Bioware, EA)
New Super Mario Bros U (Nintendo)
Nintendo Land (Nintendo)
Skylanders Giants (Toys for Bob, Activision)
Xenoblade Chronicles (Monolith Soft, Nintendo)
[poll=258]

Best Game on PS3

Borderlands 2 (Gearbox, 2K Games)
Dishonored (Arkane Studios, Bethesda Softworks)
Far Cry 3 (Ubisoft)
Journey (ThatGameCompany, SCEA)
XCOM: Enemy Unknown (Fraxis Games, 2K Games)
[poll=259]

Best Game on Xbox 360

Far Cry 3 (Ubisoft)
Halo 4 (343 Industries, Microsoft Studios)
Mass Effect 3 (Bioware, EA)
Mark of the Ninja (Klei Entertainment, Microsoft Game Studios)
XCOM: Enemy Unknown (Fraxis Games, 2K Games)
[poll=260]

Best Overall Game

Dishonored (Arkane Studios, Bethesda Softworks)
Mass Effect 3 (Bioware, EA)
Halo 4 (343 Industries, Microsoft Studios)
The Walking Dead (Telltale Games)
XCOM: Enemy Unknown (Fraxis Games, 2K Games)
Xenoblade Chronicles (Monolith Soft, Nintendo)
[poll=261]